Last June, Addison Bethea was enjoying her last summer before her senior year of high school, when scalloping in shallow waters off the coast of Florida with her brother, she was bitten by a shark that took her leg.
One year later, the resilient 18-year-old walked the homecoming field at graduation with her prosthetic leg, and later she returned to the same spot she was attacked and went for a swim.
Capping off a senior year marked by trauma and several successes, the new graduate shared some unexpected and exciting news with her followers!
In late June 2022, Addison Bethea and her half-brother Rhett Willingham anchored their little boat near a large grassy sandbank off the coast of Keaton Beach in northern Florida.
The siblings were scalloping in the murky waters, about 6 feet deep, when Addison felt something tug her leg.
Recounting that moment in the BBC documentary Why Sharks Attack, the young woman said she “vividly” remembers the details.
“When it latched on and [pulled] me under with my calf, I remember that,” Addison said, adding that she felt no pain until she tried to pry its massive jaws off her leg. “I thought it was Rhett, as it pulled me under because I didn’t feel any pain or anything. But then it started kind of shaking me and that’s when I knew it was something else. It started biting into my right thigh and I was gouging its eye to get it off me and then it started swimming away with me still in its mouth.”
Addison–who learned from her passion of sharks to punch it in the nose or poke its eyes–wasn’t going to let the almost 9-foot shark win the battle without a fight.
But the large creature overpowered her.
Realizing she was helpless, she screamed, and Rhett, a firefighter and emergency medical technician (EMT) immediately answered her cries.
“My brother was the one that heard me scream … and when he turned around, I was actually pulled under the water by the shark,” she shared. “I came back up and I was screaming for him. It’s almost like when you’re in a dream, and you’re trying to scream in a dream, and it feels like nothing’s coming out. That’s what I felt like in that moment, so I belted as loud as I could.”
Rhett, 23, explains in the documentary that he saw the shark thrashing in the water with his sister clutched in its mouth. He punched it numerous times and when the shark finally released Addison, he got her into the boat.
“I heard Addison yell and she surfaced and I immediately could see this tail, just slashing back and forth,” Rhett said. “I grabbed her and started hitting it to get it off.”
A nearby boater heard what was happening and rushed to help. Taking the siblings to shore, they were met by emergency officials.
Footage released from a police bodycam shows Rhett on the boat, holding the torniquet he made tightly on his sister, who is seen lying on her side.
The shark took most of her right leg.
“Goddammit,” he is heard saying to EMTs who arrived at the scene. “that’s my F—ing sister…dude it was huge, like I literally had to pry it off of her.”The clip shows Addison, lying helpless on the boat, first gasping and then her heartbreaking cries, “help me.”
And her big brother, who remained calm, replies, “Addison we’re not losing you. Look at me, Addison.”
Airlifted to a hospital in Tallahassee, Addison had six surgeries where her right thigh was mostly reconstructed, and her leg amputated above her knee, allowing her to use a prosthetic.
She spent the summer before her senior year in hospital recovering, and she was focused on staying positive. Addison said: “What my dad used to tell me in the hospital [was], ‘Today is going to be a good day,’. Even if it’s not a perfect day, just find one good thing out of your day to keep you going…just be grateful.”
Setting goals for herself, Addison’s first was to walk and then to walk on her own at her high school’s homecoming celebration in the fall.
“During homecoming week is when you walk in the fancy dresses down the football field,” she said. “That’s something I’ve always loved doing, and the parade, and I wanted to be able to do that again one last time for senior year.”
The former cheerleader, who was previously athletic and active, said her hobbies helped her recovery. Quickly adapting to her prosthetic leg, Addison returned to school in September, only three months after the attack.
Named to her school’s homecoming court, Addison then fulfilled her dream of walking the football field with her prosthetic leg.
“It was different, but I was able to do it. I walked on the field with my prosthetic perfectly normal, without crutches or anything,” said Addison, who also cheered one last football game with her team.
Checking things off her list, Addison then walked on her own at high school graduation in May 2023, which on July 1 was followed by a swim with her brother–who she calls her “hero”–in the exact same spot she was attacked.
“I felt completely safe. It felt perfectly normal. It didn’t make me sad or anything. I didn’t get emotional. It was just like [a] back to just normal kind of thing, hop back into routine.”
Shortly after graduation, Addison revealed she hit an unexpected milestone.
She found out that she is pregnant and expecting her first child in December, with her high school sweetheart as the father.
“It definitely wasn’t something I planned, but like I’ve said, God works in mysterious ways” Addison said. “Maybe it’s just time for me to be a mom. I’m very excited…It’s crazy to be bringing a brand new life into [the world] when mine was almost gone. It’s kind of crazy how that works.”
In addition to being a future mom, Addison is also on a mission to keep people safe in water, and not afraid.
“You can’t just be mad at the ocean when you’re in [sharks] territory. They know what they’re doing. They know what they want to eat. You’ve just got to be mindful of that,” she said.