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Video: U.S. skier ‘lucky’ to walk away from bear attack

  1. Closed captioning of: U.S. skier ‘lucky’ to walk away from bear attack

    >>> with the story about one woman's hero inning encount we're black bare. we're doing to talk with her in a moment. but first, here's nbc's lee cowen.

    >> reporter: along the crazy canyon trail. a wilderness spot known well to native hosz who unwittingly wound up where no one wants to be, between a black bear and her two cubs.

    >> she is going to do everything she can to protect her cubs if she thinks they're in danger or somebody is trying to do something to them.

    >> reporter: athletic enough to once be a member of the u.s. ski team decided at first to flee. but realizing she couldn't outrun the bear, she turned to face her down instead.

    >> you've got, you know, size on your side if it's a black bear as opposed to a grizzily that is 700 to 1,000 pounds.

    >> it's still a terrifying suspect. anni punched the animal repeatedly in the face. not a soul on the trail earned her scream. he she had just been musing how precious life was. especially after learning her friend and fellow ski team member committed suicide just days before. as those thoughts erase the mind of the bear, suddenly back down. returning to her cubs who, by now, had scurried up a tree. stunned but thankful, having had a wild encounter and lived to tell about it. lee cowen, nbc news, los angeles .

    >> joining us exclusively, good morning.

    >> good morning.

    >> this just happened on friday. you can see the impact. describe the injuries you have.

    >> i'm so lucky that, you know, this was it. she just got my left arm and then she got some on my chest, one good paw on my chest. otherwise, this is it. i'm so fortunate that i walked away from this incident.

    >> fortunately but also to some degree because of your actions because it turns out with grizzily bears the rule of thumb is to play dead . but be black bears you're supposed to make yourself big and holler and throw things. the moment you saw the bear, how did you know what to do?

    >> well, actually wild animal catch has been one of my biggest fears and something i always talked about and worried about and people laugh because they say you're so outdoorsy and you can't worry about it but it's so real. i kind of just remember growing up in montana always hearing what you're supposed to do and different instances on different animals. all the protocols are different. so i just remember kind of while everything was happening, like, what do you remember, what have you heard and that's exactly what i remembered was just try to be as large and aggressive as you can be and that's what i tried to do.

    >> so describe then the encounter and what was going through your mind.

    >> as i was running, you know, through the trail and i kind of saw to my right these two bears scramble up the tree. i realized they were cubs and i saw the mother bear. normally bears are sort of human so i thought they typically would turn and run. i thought that's what she would do. she turned and ran straight for me. at first instinct was just get out of here, maybe try to get out of her territory. so i started sprinting faster. i looked behind me and she was right behind me and i realized running from a wild animal is the worst thing you can do. that's when i stopped and turned around and she first lunged on me and i was so lucky she was the size that she was because as she was coming at me i was able to strike her in the head a few times. and the second time i struck her i made pretty good contact and she kind of fell off of her hinds and went down to all fours and kind of swung back. i was able to pick up a rock. and i threw that at her. that made her more angry, so she attacked me again. and then for whatever reason, when she kind of stopped attacking me, i slowly started backing up, grabbed another boulder and just started walking backwards. i noticed the more quiet and calm i became, the more quiet she was. so that's what i tried to do. and i just got some space between us by backing up. and she charged me a few times and was growling and snorting, but she jumped on a tree and kind of circling me but luckily didn't come and attack me again. after, you know, getting some space between us she sort of lost interest and turned around and went back up to her cubs. and i walked backwards for probably five or so more minutes, worried to turn that she was going to come at me again. and then i had probably 3 1/2, 3 miles back to my car. all injuries were superficial that i was able to drive myself to the hospital and was treated. but i got -- i got so lucky.

    >> i'm sure your parents were so relieved. and your father gave you something for your next run. is that right?

    >> yeah. i got an industrial sized can of bear spray . it's heavy. i'm going to have to try to fasten it somewhere. but, you know, i'm really lucky to be here today. and just so lucky it turned out the way that it did because it might not have.

    >> i want to mention you just heard in lee cowan's report that you were a friend of speedy peterson who we all reported last week took his own life last week. any thoughts you want to add to this.

    >> >> my condolences go out to everybody who knew him. he was an amazing human being and amazed so many people. i think this experience really has taught me that and it's so important to believe in yourself and to be confident and i think every experience makes you more experienced for the future. and this is definitely a life lesson that i have learned. to really just show that you can -- you can get through most anything if you believe in yourself. and that's kind of what i have taken away from this, is you just can never doubt yourself and just be strong a. strong and confident woman and human being and that's what i think is greater lesson in all of this.

    >> it's a lesson. we thank you for sharing.

    >> thank you for having me.

    >> inspiring the rest of us.

    >> it was wonderful. thank you.

    >> thank you. nice to meet you.

TODAY contributor
updated 8/1/2011 9:22:26 AM ET 2011-08-01T13:22:26

Ani Haas grew up exploring the outdoors in an area filled with wildlife — but she’s always been afraid of one day coming face to face with an aggressive animal.

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That fear came to life for the former U.S. ski team member as she jogged on the Crazy Canyon Trail in Missoula, Mont., on the morning of July 29, in the form of a female black bear charging at her with claws and teeth bared. Fortunately, Haas’ phobia may have saved her life — because when her nightmare became real, she knew what to do.

“A wild animal attack has been one of my biggest fears,’’ the Missoula native admitted to TODAY’s Ann Curry in an exclusive interview on Monday. “It’s something I’ve always talked about and been worried about. Growing up in Montana, [you’re] always hearing what you’re supposed to do in different instances with different animals. All the protocols are different, so I just remembered while everything was happening.’’

Video: Survivor recalls ‘horrendous fight’ with bear

Haas had initially tried to sprint away from the angry mother bear after accidentally coming between the animal and her two cubs while jogging the trail. But she soon realized that was the wrong tactic. “I looked behind me, and she was right behind me,’’ Haas said. “I realized running from wild animals is the worst thing you can do.’’

The bear chased her down from behind, slashing her chest and left arm with its claws when Haas turned around. No one on the trail heard her screams, so it was up to Haas to extricate herself from the situation.

Video: Chilling 911 calls detail vicious bear attack

Bear necessities
It was at that point that Haas quickly recalled how to handle a black bear. When a grizzly bear attacks, lying down and playing dead may be the best strategy. But with black bears, it’s the opposite.

“That’s exactly what I remembered — just try to be as large and aggressive as you can be,’’ Haas said. “That’s what I tried to do.’’

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So Haas counterattacked, punching the bear repeatedly in the head. On her second attempt, she landed a solid blow that forced the creature to drop down on all fours.

Haas then picked up a rock and hurled it at the bear, but it only served to enrage the animal and provoke another attack. So after picking up another rock, Haas began backing up slowly.

“I noticed the more quiet and calm I became, the more quiet she was,’’ she told Curry.

Story: Girl, 6, on shark that bit her: ‘I forgive him’

After some growling and snorting, the bear lost interest and returned to her cubs. Haas walked backward for about another 5 minutes just to make sure the bear didn’t try to attack again. Bleeding from her scratches but not seriously hurt, Haas was able to jog the nearly three miles back to her car and drive herself to nearby St. Patrick Hospital, having survived an incident she had always feared.

On TODAY, Ani Haas showed the injuries she sustained during her encounter with a black bear.

“I’m just so lucky it turned out the way that it did, because it might not have,’’ she said.

Life lessons
Haas had been musing about the preciousness and fragility of life shortly before the attack, in the wake of the suicide only a few days earlier of Jeret “Speedy’’ Peterson, her former U.S. ski teammate and friend. Haas was a member of the U.S. ski team up until 2010, but did not qualify for the Olympics because of an injury. She trained with Peterson for seven years and was his teammate for three years.

Story: Fleeing a bear, pregnant woman is hit by car

“My condolences go out to everybody who knew him,’’ Haas said. “He was an amazing human being and amazed so many people.’’

Haas said the attack also drove home to her the importance of self-confidence in any situation.

“I think this experience really has taught me that it’s so important to believe in yourself and be confident,’’ she said. “This is definitely a life lesson that I’ve learned, to really just show that you can get through most everything if you believe in yourself.’’

But along with being confident, it doesn’t hurt to take precautions. Haas said that her one-round boxing victory over the bear earned her a gift from her father.

“I got an industrial-sized can of bear spray,’’ she said, smiling.

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