The Grizzly Attack that Created a Bear Advocate

Photo by: Avalon/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

When Mya Helena Myllykoski and her son were attacked by a grizzly bear whilst hiking they managed to fight it off — partly through luck, and partly through a can of bear spray. As Eva Holland explains in Cottage Life, the fact that they were not completely helpless could be why neither has had any adverse psychological effects from the attack: “For most … a key factor in recovering from trauma is agency, the sense that you have power or control over your own circumstances.” It’s a concept called “post-traumatic growth,” also known as “adversarial growth” or “benefit-finding.” Mya went hiking with her younger son a few days after the attack, and, in fact, the incident ended up giving her a clear sense of purpose —  she now addresses bear-human conflict in speaking gigs and in a book that she is working on. Instead of holding any resentment against bears, she wants to help save them. 

That’s when Mya went for her backpack with the spray, the sound attracting the bear’s attention, and he charged at her. He knocked her onto her back again, pinning her chest with huge, heavy paws. The can of spray was in her hand somehow now, her fingers tangled in the plastic loop below the trigger guard, and she regretted that she hadn’t practised removing the safety recently. She put her hands up as the bear’s jaws came down towards her face. Then the canister exploded between them. It took her a moment to understand that the bear, snapping at her face, had bitten right into the can instead. 

The bear backed away, looking—in Mya’s word—“insulted.” She couldn’t breathe properly, though she didn’t yet feel the searing pain of the high-potency spray that covered her face. The bear moved away into the brush, and she got to her feet. Alex was standing now too, bloody, still swearing. “Fuckin’ A!” he said, riding high on adrenalin. “That was amazing!”

A deep, pained groan from the brush let them know the bear was still close by. Quickly, feeling that continued threat, they emptied all their water onto Mya’s face, hoping to clear the spray. They only succeeded in spreading it around. Her skin burned now, and it hurt to breathe, and she could hardly see. They gathered their things from the ground and retreated down the trail, Alex leading his mother along. He was still jubilant, punching the air.

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