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Bethany: homeschooled student,surfer, and author, awarded the Teen Choice Award for the Most Courageous Teen
Bethany's father and surf coach
Almost every morning, Bethany hits the beach in Kauai, Hawaii, with her friends. On Friday, October 31, 2003, Bethany was surfing at Tunnels Beach. The water was crystal clear and calm. She was relaxing on her board, with her right hand on the board and her left arm dangling in the cool water, as she waited for the next wave to roll in. Her friends were floating not too far away from her. All of them were looking out to sea.
Suddenly, there was a flash of gray. Bethany felt a lot of pressure and a couple of fast tugs. It was all over in a few seconds. That’s all it took for the 15-foot tiger shark to bite off her left arm, nearly to the shoulder. Bethany watched in shock as the water around her turned bright red. Somehow, she managed to stay calm. “It’s funny,” Bethany says, “you would think having your arm bitten off would really hurt. But there was no pain at the time.”
Bethany said in a loud but not panicky voice, “I just got attacked by a shark,” and started paddling toward shore. It was a quarter of a mile back, but one thought kept repeating in her head: “Get to the beach.” (The shark that bit her was later caught.)
Bethany’s friends reached her quickly and helped her to shore. Her arm was bleeding badly, but that didn’t stop her from praying fervently. One of them tied a shirt around the stub of her arm as a tourniquet. It was during the long paddle back – nearly fifteen minutes – that fear began to wash over her. Bethany pushed the negative thoughts away with a prayer, “I’m in God’s hands.” She was lapsing in and out of consciousness, and the pain in her arm became very apparent.
Finally, after what seemed like forever, the emergency vehicles came. Bethany says she remembers one paramedic. He spoke softly to her and held her hand as they were pulling out of the parking lot. He whispered, “God will never leave you nor forsake you.” Bethany says he was right.
Bethany’s parents, Tom and Cheri, are avid surfers who met while surfing in the '80s and married shortly after. Friends got the Hamiltons interested in reading the Bible, and soon they became Christians.
They taught Bethany to surf when she was 5 years old, around the same time that Bethany accepted the Lord. By the time she was 7, Bethany was surfing the waves alone without her parents’ help. Bethany was planning on going pro.
She is the youngest of three children and the only girl. Her brother Noah is 22 and her other brother Timmy is 18. Bethany learned to play other sports, like soccer and skateboarding.
On the morning of the shark attack, Tom had been scheduled for knee surgery and was already on the operating table when the ambulance brought Bethany. His surgeon was preparing to start the operation when a nurse burst into the room. She said, “There’s a 13-year-old girl coming, a shark attack victim.”
Tom immediately knew it was either Bethany or her friend, Alana. The doctor confirmed his horror, and they wheeled Tom into recovery. “That hour in the recovery room was torture,” Tom says. His mind was wild with scenarios of what might be happening to his daughter.
By Saturday morning, Bethany was exhausted from lack of sleep. She told her dad that she wanted to be the best surf photographer in the world. (That was her way of saying her surfing days were over.) Later she changed her mind and started thinking about surfing again, but the doctor ordered her out of the water until the stitches were out.
When the bandages came off, the sight of her arm nearly caused her to faint. “It was a lot worse than I had imagined,” says Bethany. “I was going to need help from someone much bigger than myself if I was ever going to get back in the water.”
Bethany says she always has this thought, “Why did God choose me, and what does He have in mind for me?” She says her faith in Christ means everything to her. She prefers not to make the shark attack “a big soap opera.” Rather, Bethany prefers to focus on what God has allowed her to do in picking up the pieces of her old life and adjusting to the new one.
At Thanksgiving time, she got back in the water and surfed.
A caring friend will be there to pray with you in your time of need.