On just about any given day, a big blue sky watches over the Caloosahatchee River. In Moorehaven, Florida, the river slices through the heart of town. The reality is that the water brings an inherent danger.
"So this is exactly where it happened?" I ask Fred.
"Yeah," he answers. As if on queue, a large alligator they estimate at six feet glides by.
"And he's here to greet you?" I ask.
"Yeah," he laughs, then jokes about all of us jumping in and going for a swim.
Alligators are known to nest here, but what makes this gator unique is timing.
"Is this the first time you've seem one here since the attack?" I ask.
Fred softly answers what sounds like, "Yeah."
"Yes?" I ask.
"Yes," Fred replies.
Just about four months ago, an encounter with a different gator changed Fred Langdale's life forever.
"Right there?" I ask.
"Just about where that gator is," he replies.
This is where it all happened. Fred and his friends jumped off the dock, and Fred made it more than halfway across the river when the gator attacked and bit off his arm.
"It happened quick, but it seemed like it took forever. It felt like 30 seconds honestly,"
Trappers caught that gator hours after the attack. Inside its stomach, an arm too mangled to re-attach. The reptile was enormous -- almost eight feet long. Its size not apparent to Fred until it pulled him underwater in a death roll.
"All you see was his head and it didn't look that big until after we went under. I saw how big he was, and I was like oh this can't be good. I could feel my bones crack and then and then he done another I could feel my bones break," Fred recalled.
Fred's survival hinged on a decision to leave his arm behind.
Felinda Landale admits her son is a risk taker, and says she has worried more than once about him.
"It's actually something that I had always expected with Fred, always had that feeling in the pit on my stomach that something was going to happen to him that was going to be bad," she said.
But his love for a challenge is now driving his recovery.
"I felt sorry for him for about a minute. I thought, ‘gosh my child doesn't have an arm. How is he going to weld? How is he going to drive? Zip his pants?' All those things. God spoke and said he's gonna be fine. He doesn't feel sorry for himself, so I don't either," Felinda says.
And she's right. With the help of a new, high tech, bionic arm, Fred is welding in shop class here Moorehaven High School.
"It's similar to what a normal hand can do. I can pick things up without having to reach over, open up a door while I have something in this hand," he says.
Similar because of how he controls it.
"With my muscles, I still got two muscles left in my arm. One her and one there, and one to open and one to close."
He says he quickly learned how to use it.
Once right handed, Fred is now a south paw able to hit targets with his .22 caliber rifle. He showed us how to shoot. His aim was dead on; my shots missed.
Here at home, Fred uses a power sander to maintain his retro-fitted airboat. Day by day, he overcomes new hurdles, checking them off one by one.
"My goal is to drive again. Done that. Wakeboard. Done that..."
Fred is able also able to fish, but along with his ambition, he has never lost his sense of humor.
"How many people got a hand to match their shoes? Or shoes to match their hand?"
Back at school, "I'll ask if they need a hand, and I'll take it off and give it to them."
His friends are pretty impressed.
"I think it's cool. All of us are simple minded people. When we see a mechanical arm, we think it's the coolest thing in the world," says Matthew Baker.
Fred did have to give up football. Yet he still inspires his former teammates, friends who were with him the day of the attack.
"It matured me a lot. I felt like I kinda grew up over the summer," said Gary Beck
"Any moment, your life can change drastically, and from that moment till now we've actually made it through a lot. Really been through everything with Fred, who has been through the most," says Matthew Baker.
Along with the students, he's also inspired principal George Coates.
"Every time I speak with him, he's got a smile on his face. He's happy doing what he's doing right now. He feels he is giving a voice to people that sometimes go unnoticed," Coates said.
For Fred, going unnoticed is not an option.
"You can't go back and change the past. You just gotta go on," he says.
"It's overwhelming how positive he is been through the entire thing. He's never had any dark moments, he just continues to be Fred," his mom says.
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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