Bethany Hamilton – Faith
“I don’t need easy, I just need possible.”
“Wanna go surfing?” These were the first words Bethany Hamilton heard on the morning of October 31, 2003. Her mother, Cheri, was the one asking. Cheri had already listened to the weather and surfing reports for Kauai, the small Hawaiian Island where the family lived. Thirteen-year-old Bethany simply responded, “Yes!” They were hoping to get in some early morning surfing before Cheri would have to take Bethany’s dad, Tom, into the hospital for knee surgery. When Bethany emerged from her room, she was greeted by her mom who was holding a bowl of raisin bran for Bethany to eat on the road. Based on the trade winds, they started at a spot called Pauaeaka. They sat on the beach before the sunrise and listened for the roaring waves they hoped were forming outside the reef. When the sun rose, it confirmed what their ears were hearing – calm seas – which are lousy conditions for surfing.
When they got back into the car, Bethany wondered if another location would have better surfing conditions. “Let’s just check out Tunnels Beach,” she pleaded. When they arrived at Tunnels Beach, they were greeted with similarly disappointing conditions. Just as they were about to head home, a familiar black pickup truck pulled into the parking lot. In it was her best friend, Alana Blanchard, accompanied by her dad and brother. “Can I stay, Mom?” Bethany asked. After getting a nod and some motherly advice, Bethany ran down the path with her surfboard tucked under her right arm.
Thirty minutes later Bethany was lying on her surfboard about a quarter mile from shore, waiting to catch the next wave. And that’s when she felt a “pressure and a couple of lightning-fast tugs.” In a split second, a 15-foot Tiger Shark had bitten off her left arm along with a chunk of her surfboard. Instinctively, Bethany started paddling with one arm toward her friend, Alana, and calmly said “I just got attacked by a shark.” Over the next 15 minutes, her friends paddled Bethany to shore and alerted 911. Bethany ultimately lost 60% of her blood and therefore drifted in and out of consciousness. It was still touch and go as the ambulance raced her down mostly desolate dirt roads to the hospital. In a strange twist of fate, her dad’s knee surgery was suddenly canceled because his room was needed for an emergency surgery to save the life of a young surfer.
The events that occurred on this little Hawaiian Island made big news all over the world. Based on her inspirational and spiritually-based comments, the media began referring to Bethany as the “Soul Surfer.” Everyone wanted to talk to this blue-eyed, blond-haired girl whose arm had been bitten clean off by a shark and lived to tell about it.
Bethany had given two interviews fairly soon after she was released from the hospital. She had hoped that these would help offset her medical costs. In those interviews she articulated two viewpoints that amazed people. The first viewpoint was that Bethany could not wait to get back into the ocean and surf as soon as the doctors cleared her to enter the water. Bethany was not going to allow her loss of a limb to stop her from doing what she loved – surfing. Many were skeptical that Bethany would ever surf again. In response, Bethany said, “People can do whatever they want if they just set their heart to it, and just never give up, and just go out there and do it.” Her philosophy could be summed up in one sentence: “I don’t need easy, I just need possible.”
The other viewpoint that Bethany shared was that she believed the entire event was part of God’s plan. She felt that God was using her life to inspire others. “I know that God has put me in a place where I have a chance to be of help to people all over the world,” she said after the attack. “There’s a greater good here.” Her faith and belief in this plan took a great burden off her shoulders. Instead of walking around asking why this had happened to her and taking a “woe is me” attitude, she uncovered a driving purpose for her life. As she said, “No woe – just go, go, go.”
True to her word, Bethany entered the water and began surfing just four weeks after the attack. It was Thanksgiving Day. Bethany’s first couple of attempts to ride a wave ended in face-first falls. Bethany did not give up. Encouraged by her family, she firmly placed her good right arm in the center of the board and stood up. “It’s hard for me to describe the joy I felt after I stood up and rode a wave in for the first time after the attack,” she said. “The tiny bit of doubt that would sometimes tell me ‘you’ll never surf again’ was gone in one wave.”
After a while, Bethany’s biggest obstacle wasn’t actually riding a wave, it was paddling out to the spots necessary to catch the waves. Successful surfers need the ability to “duck-dive”. This is when a surfer must duck under a big wave to prevent it from sweeping the surfer back towards shore. Bethany’s dad created a handle near the front of the board to help her with this maneuver. She was to use the handle to push her board under the incoming waves. This technique, augmented by exercises that improved Bethany’s leg kick, solved the challenge of getting out to the waves.
Soon Bethany was back to competing in surfing competitions. She did very well in 2005, winning the National Scholastic Surfing Association’s National Championship and winning the prestigious O’Neil Island Junior Pro Championships. Bethany turned pro in 2007 and subsequently won several surfing competitions. After getting married in 2013 and giving birth to their son in 2015, she managed a third place finish in the ultra-competitive 2016 Fiji Women’s Pro Event. In doing so she beat the number 1 ranked surfer in the world and the 6-time defending world champion.
Bethany was and still is an inspiration to others. In 2004, she received the ESPY Award for Best Comeback Athlete and also the Courage Teen Award from MTV. She authored the book, Soul Surfer, which was turned into a movie in 2011. She has been on countless TV programs and featured in magazines worldwide. Over a decade later, people still know the Soul Surfer. Most know about the shark attack, but they also know about her faith, her courage and her will to help others.
To this day, Bethany receives letters and emails from cancer survivors and amputees who find strength in her example. These people write Bethany to let her know that her example has inspired them to overcome their challenges in life. People reason that, if a teenager can get her arm bitten off by a shark and get back in the same water on a surfboard a month later, maybe they have the strength and courage to move past their own trials and tribulations.
In 2017, Bethany said, “I think all of us have that passion in us for different things. It may not be surfing, but whatever your passion is, you just go for it.” These, my friends, are words to live by.
Check out the Student Athlete Program
Bethany Hamilton is one of the 144 “Wednesday Role Models” featured in the Student Athlete Program. This program is designed to improve the character, leadership and sportsmanship of high school athletes. To learn more about this program and how you can implement it in your school: