Sgt. Jessica Gamboa was out for a run at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage, Alaska, when she spotted a bear cub.
“Immediately my thought was, ‘OK, where’s the mama bear?’” she said of the May 18 incident.
Her instincts were right. The mama bear attacked, knocking Gamboa down, then picking her up and throwing her to the ground, pummeling Gamboa with her powerful paws.
Gamboa did the only thing she could.
“I played dead,” she said, in a video interview released by the Army. “I just completely surrendered.”
That action likely saved her life.
Eventually the bear lost interest. But Gamboa was left badly injured and all alone, suffering from lacerations to her neck, arms and legs, a torn ear and neck fractures.
So Gamboa got in touch with her own inner mama bear.
“I have a baby boy, a 4-year-old son at home. ... He’s all I wanted to live for,” she said.
She called out for her husband, who was also running at the base, but got no response. She prayed for strength.
Finally, out of nowhere came a truck driven by an Army medic, Sgt. Collin Gillikin.
“I wasn’t a man of faith but it kind of made me think there really is something bigger than myself out there,” Gillikin said.
Less than two weeks after the attack, doctors say Gamboa will make a full recovery. But she’s already learned an important lesson.
“Never underestimate the power of nature,” she said. “And when it comes to mama bear, there’s not much that you can do.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.