Bethany Hamilton’s dramatic story is full of fortitude, faith and the power to overcome fear. At age 13 in 2003, the young surfing phenom was spending a carefree Hawaiian day in the water paddling to catch a few waves when a 14-foot tiger shark attacked, severing her left arm at the shoulder.
At that moment, any dreams of surfing professionally could have been washed away with the tide, but true grit, determination and her trust in God set Bethany on a positive path to prove to the world that nothing could hold her back. Now, more than a decade later, Bethany is surfing professionally and encouraging young girls to overcome adversity to follow their passions.
Bethany's busy new life
Life has certainly changed for Bethany, but in her opinion, for the better. She has found true love in her husband, youth minister Adam Dirks, and the couple recently celebrated the birth of their first child, Tobias (the one event that has kept her out of the water for more than a month).
She is working on a film project about her sport that she hopes will become one of the best female surf documentaries to date. Her life is full, and she will always follow her passions. She says Adam keeps her balanced when things get too lopsided, and he watches the little one while she sneaks away to catch a few waves. The couple’s faith and awareness ground them, and their priorities of love and family are firmly in place.
The silver lining
“I look back on the shark attack, and I don’t think negatively toward it,” Bethany says. “I kind of see it as something good because of all the good that has come out of it since. I look at the different trials in my life and how it has shaped me as a person or encouraged me in my faith.”
Less than a month after her attack, she took second place in the 2003 National Scholastic Surfing Association’s championship and has been consistently ranking in competitions every year since. She credits her resilience to her strong Christian faith, which gave her the courage to get back in the water, and her supportive family, who always told her to never look back.
It's in the genes
“My parents have always raised me that way.…It’s been a long time since that initial accident happened, and there have been so many trials since then,” she says. “My mom definitely encouraged me to find things to be thankful for on rough days and just look for the good in tough situations.”
That is a family dynamic she aims to repeat. “I really hope to be involved in my kids’ lives every single day, and love on them in the morning and love on them at night and all throughout the day.”
Losing her arm, she adds, has given her the opportunity to love and help others. Her story has resonated with so many people. She’s received myriad awards, including ESPN’s ESPY for Comeback Athlete of the Year in 2004 and a Heal the World Award in 2012; she has been the subject of a major motion picture, Soul Surfer, in 2011 (based on her best-selling autobiography), and regularly speaks to groups to encourage and inspire others, including young girls and fellow amputees.
A chance to inspire young girls
Now in its third year, Bethany’s annual Beautifully Flawed Retreat is an event where young girls who have experienced a limb loss can get together
in a loving environment and relate to one another. “It’s always fun to talk with people with different physical challenges,” Bethany says. “I find some kind of camaraderie between us. We can relate to each other on a whole other level.”
Hosted by Bethany; Lauren Scruggs, who survived a plane propeller accident; and the Friends of Bethany Hamilton organization, girls can learn about fitness, fashion and how to overcome the physical and mental challenges amputees face every day. Bethany’s passion for helping others overcome issues of self-image even inspired her in 2014 to write the book Body & Soul: A Girl’s Guide to a Fit, Fun and Fabulous Life, encouraging young girls to live in a confident and healthy way.
Bethany has always been a happy and joyful person. We have much to learn from her example: Find your purpose, have faith and love one another completely.
Chris Libby is the Section Editor for Live Happy magazine.