8 months after bear mauling, Eagle River man finishes NYC half-marathon

bbragg@adn.comMarch 16, 2013 

UPDATE SUNDAY MARCH 17

Bob Eder reached his goal of running Sunday's NYC Half-Marathon in less than two hours. He finished the 13.1-mile race in 1 hour, 58 minutes, 52 seconds to place 252nd in his age group.

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After the grizzly bear shredded his quadriceps, ripped his scalp and used his chest for a scratching post, Bob Eder decided he needed a goal to help whip him back into his pre-mauling fitness level. He circled March 17 on his calendar, climbed on his wind trainer and started pedaling.

Sunday, less than eight months after the attack near his Eagle River home, Eder is in New York, one of 15,000 runners in the NYC Half-Marathon.

When Eder strips off his warmups, he will reveal a 10-inch zipper-like scar that runs the length of his left thigh and another long scar on the side of the same leg. On his chest, partially visible if he chooses to wear a race singlet, are four big, red stripes, marks left by a single swipe of the bear's paw.

Eder, 51, was hiking uphill with his dog Lewis last July in an area near his home called Ram Valley, near Chugach State Park. The brush was tall, and Eder did not see the sow and three cubs until their heads popped out of the brush 10 feet away.

Eder gave a shout to try to scare them and spun around. The mama grizzly attacked from behind, getting a chunk of scalp and knocking him down. As he somersaulted downhill, she continued to attack, clawing his chest and leg. When he came to a stop, the bears weren't in sight.

"After I cursed myself and pounded my fist on the ground for getting myself in this spot, I sat up and tried my cellphone," he said.

No signal, which didn't surprise him. Even at his house he only gets one bar, coverage is so spotty.

There was a road at the bottom of the hill so he slid down to it on his butt, hoping to scoot into cellphone range. Blood was pouring out of his head. His left leg was splayed open. He hadn't even realized the bear had tattooed his chest too.

Once on the road Eder stood up, gingerly, so he could shuffle along in his quest for cell coverage. He pulled off his bicycling jersey and wrapped it around his leg -- not to stop the bleeding, but to hold the leg together.

Finally, he got one bar on his phone. He reached 911 some 25 to 30 minutes after the attack. Another 30 minutes passed before emergency responders found him. It took 45 minutes to get him into the ambulance and to a hospital in Anchorage, where he received 10 units of blood upon arrival.

"I was conscious the whole time," Eder said. "The whole time."

Eder spent 11 days at Providence Alaska Medical Center, six of them in the ICU. The chest wounds were deep -- one of the claws missed his heart by a centimeter, he said. The scalp got staples. The leg needed surgery.

"They took the muscle in surgery," Eder said. "They told me they had to scrape it out, the muscle was just shredded."

But he didn't lose the entire muscle and was told he might lose 10 percent to 40 percent use of the leg. Time would tell.

Two months after the attack, Eder launched his own physical therapy. He's an avid cyclist who completed a one-day, 200-mile Seattle-to-Portland bike trip the week before his mauling, and though he is not a competitive runner, he has run several marathons, beginning with the Mayor's Marathon when he was just 15.

So he decided to run and bike his way back.

"I was starting from pretty much zero," he said. "I decided I needed to set a goal for myself, so I started looking for races in the spring."

The NYC Half-Marathon on March 17 looked perfect -- it gave him six months to rehab, and it came right when he would be wrapping up a construction job in Barrow for which he is the project manager.

First came time on the wind trainer.

"I'd go 30 minutes or whatever I could do, just spin real easily with hardly any resistance to get some flexibility back," he said.

Then he started taking Lewis, a beagle-corgi mix, for short walks in the hilly neighborhood. Next, he started running a mile or two at a time. He entered a couple of short races, including the 5-kilometer Turkey Trot at Thanksgiving and the 3-kilometer Frostbite Footrace at Fur Rondy, averaging nine-minute miles and eight-minute miles, respectively.

"I've done two-hour runs on the treadmill and 90-minute runs outside," he said. "I think I can run 13 miles. I just want to finish it. If I could finish it in two hours, I'd be happy."

Eder said he doesn't feel a lot of pain in the leg; if anything, there's a loss of feeling around his knee, plus a continued loss of flexibility.

He said he doesn't relive the attack or have nightmares about it, but one thought does revisit.

"What if while I was sliding myself down this hill I had run into another bear, or that bear came back?" he said. "I didn't think about that at the time, but I think about it now."

Eder lives and hikes in bear country. About two months before he was mauled, a friend's neighbor was attacked in the same valley. "As the crow flies, from where his was to where I was is less than one mile," he said.

Despite all of that, Eder said it's likely he will return to Ram Valley for a hike this summer.

"Only, I'm gonna make a lot more noise," he said.

 

 

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