On Board: Soul Surfer
By Jayne Thurber-Smith
In 2003, Bethany Hamilton’s dream of being a pro surfer was nearly shattered when her left arm was bitten off by a thirteen-foot tiger shark while she was surfing in Hawaii.
If the shark had bitten two inches further in, the attack would have been fatal. As it was, Bethany lost almost 60 percent of her blood that morning. It took 20 minutes of paddling for the determined 13-year-old to make it back to the beach, where she was rushed to hospital.
The first question Bethany asked after surgery was, “When can I surf again?” Bethany’s comeback story can be seen in theaters nationwide April 8.
Three weeks following the attack, she was back on her board and, as the result of a grueling rehabilitation, was presented with the 2004 ESPY Comeback Athlete Award for a top showing in the National Scholastic Surfing Association (NSSA) Championships. In 2005, she came first in the competition.
“Dismiss all the hype, brush aside the shark, forget about using only one arm,” executive director Janice Aragon wrote on the NSSA webpage, “Bethany Hamilton absolutely annihilated the Explorer Women’s final.” Accepting her title at the awards banquet to a 500-person standing ovation, Bethany thanked her coach, Ben Aipa—and God.
Down But Not Out
Bethany is a fervent Christian and not one to ask, “Why me, God?” Instead of being bitter about the attack, Bethany was grateful.
“It was Jesus who gave me peace when the shark severed my arm,” she declares. “I trust in Jesus whenever I’m going through a hard time. I see all the beautiful things that have come out of my situation. I’m able to share my story with young girls who have few role models, and I can help others cope with what they have been through. Even if they don’t surf, people can benefit from my story.”
Sharing Her Story
“I’m a surfer at heart,” says Bethany “Both my parents moved to Hawaii in the 1970s, where they met and became Christians. Then they taught me and my two brothers how to love the Lord— and how to surf!”
Even though she travels around the world catching waves, she makes sure that, whenever she is home, she attends her church in Kauai, Hawaii.
“I have a tight group of Christian friends who really help me,” Bethany says. “The youth leader at our church, Sarah Hall, is always there for me. She’s one of my best friends.”
“Bethany has spoken to my group at church, as well as to larger audiences,” notes Sarah. “She’s taken what has happened to her and has just followed through with her commitment to the Lord. She’s totally dedicated, and it’s wonderful to see that in someone so young.”
On her Facebook page, Bethany says God has called her to “surf for Him and share His love and hope every chance I get.” She puts her celebrity to good use and has taught kids at Walking on Water surf camps. She also raises money for World Vision through Surfing for Children in Crisis and co-chairs the Beating the Odds Foundation, a mentoring and motivational program for young people.
A Way to Worship
As a Christian athlete, Bethany holds herself to a higher standard to handle the ups and downs of her sport. Before a meet, she prays that her competitors surf well, then she goes out and tries to do her best.
“It’s hard competing at surfing, because the ocean is unpredictable,” she says. “When I have a bad heat, obviously I’m disappointed but I brush it off and go on.”
She doesn’t let the fact that she has one less arm than her competitors inhibit her.
“I have a unique workout schedule,” she says. “I concentrate on balancing with my core and my legs. Then, like any other surfer, I try to read the ocean. It’s always changing and moving—doing its own thing—so you need to learn how it works and how to position yourself.”
“Bethany’s always been in complete control of what’s happened to her,” says her coach, Ben Aipa. “She’s never dwelt on the accident because it’s all about the surfing. She just needed to adjust physically. This is what she really wants to do. Even when I’ve been overly cautious, she’s always wanted to keep going.”
Bethany loves the adrenaline rush she gets from surfing but also sees it as a unique opportunity to enjoy God’s beautiful handiwork.
“God created the heavens and the earth, the oceans and the waves for our enjoyment,” she says. “Surfing is just my way of worshipping Him.”
--Courtesy of Faith and Friends
(Attached photo courtesy of Noah Hamilton Photography)
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