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'In the jaws of a beast': Tampa Bay triathlete recovers and recounts attack by massive alligator

After surviving an attack that could have taken his life, the road to recovery has been another battle J.C. LaVerde is facing head-on.

Dave Wagner

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Published: 7:38 PM EST November 18, 2022
Updated: 5:36 PM EST November 21, 2022

In the backyard of world-class triathlete J.C. LaVerde, you will see blow-up alligators floating in his pool. It is dark humor from LaVerde’s friends and a reminder of an attack that nearly took his life. 

On Aug. 3, LaVerde was at Lake Thonotosassa preparing for an upcoming swim, bike, run adventure race. The plan was for a drone to capture video of LaVerde swimming the course.

“The goal was to get that video done and show the athletes via the website what the route actually looked like,” he said.

LaVerde said his first mistake was not having safety precautions in place.

"It’s my job to mitigate the risks of that adventure," LaVerde explained. "I was going to have three boats and five kayakers."

Lake Thonotosassa is the largest natural lake in Hillsborough County.  

"There’s tons of gators in there," said 16-year-old Seth Wynn who fishes on the lake. 

As LaVerde swam alone near the shoreline, drone video shows a massive alligator swimming toward him.

"I had no idea that dinosaur was there,"  LaVerde said describing the encounter. "I immediately felt scales, scales, scales and then teeth. I was inside its mouth. It’s whole mouth. I felt teeth. I felt his tongue."

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