In 2005, a surfer named Bethany Hamilton won the National Scholastic Surfing Association National competition. Fifteen-year-old Bethany absolutely destroyed the competition in the Explorer Women’s final. She accepted her award at the competition dinner to 500 people standing and clapping for her. Bethany thanked God and her coach, Ben Aipa, for helping her win.
After winning third-place in the Open Women’s surfing competition in 2003, the world knew it was only a matter of time until this special girl achieved Nationals gold. What they didn’t know was the amazing journey that Bethany would take on her way to finally winning gold.
Bethany Meilani Hamilton was born on February 8, 1990, in Hawaii. She began surfing at the age of 8 and gained her first sponsorship by age 9. Bethany was home-schooled from 6th grade through high school by her mother, who was a stay-at-home mom. Her father worked as a server at a town cafe.
In October 2003, after having placed 3rd in the Open Women’s division earlier that year, Bethany’s life changed forever. Bethany went for a morning surf with her best friend Alana, Alana’s father, and her brother. There she was attacked by a shark and lost her left arm just below the shoulder.
Her friends helped paddle her back to shore. Then Alana’s father made a tourniquet out of a rash guard and wrapped it around the bottom of her arm. She was rushed to the hospital and a doctor living in a hotel nearby raced to the rescue.
During later interviews, she said that she felt normal when she was bitten and felt very little pain from the bite at the moment of the attack, but felt it go numb on the way to the hospital and she ultimately lost her entire arm during the surgery that saved her life.
Despite what happened, Hamilton was determined to start surfing again. One month after the attack, she got back on her board. First, she used a custom-made board that was longer and slightly thicker than standard and had a handle for her right arm, making it easier to paddle. She learned to kick more to make up for the loss of her left arm.
After teaching herself to surf with one arm, she returned to surfing on November 26, 2003, just 26 days after the attack. She entered her first major competition on January 10, 2004. She now uses normal short boards to compete.
The shark-bitten surfboard that Hamilton was riding during the attack, as well as the bathing suit she was wearing at the time, are on display at the California Surf Museum in Oceanside, California.
Even though she lost her arm, Bethany has had an impressive career with numerous 1st place awards. But more important than the medals is her story of overcoming such tragedy where many would have given up.
Bethany’s story has been turned into multiple books, including a few written by her. She has appeared on many tv shows, magazine articles and in 2004 was named the Best Comeback Athlete and also received the Courage Teen Choice award.
The last two books written by Bethany were based around the theme of being unstoppable. One of her books is named “Be Unstoppable: The Art of Never Giving Up” and has inspired readers to be bold, enjoy life, and trust God each day. Bethany is very devout in her religious beliefs and is always quick to share them.
Bethany married her then-boyfriend Adam in 2013 and together they have three sons, Tobias, Wesley, and Micah. The family still lives in Hawaii where they surf and spend time together. Her kids all know about the attack in 2003 but she has used this as an important lesson for them on staying strong.
Bethany has always given her time and money to help others, including her own foundation, Friends of Bethany. Her foundation reaches out to amputees and youth, encouraging them to overcome difficulties by offering hope and encouraging them to have faith.
Within the Friends of Bethany Foundation there are four different programs:
- Beautifully Flawed: retreat designed for young women ages 14–25 who have experienced traumatic limb loss.
- Shine Forth: Night filled with stories and inspiration to overcome, free community event to gather together and share comeback stories.
- Anchored in Love: Conference for girls and young women ages 12 and up, a one-day event designed to help girls and young women discover their true beauty, purpose, and worth.
- The Forge: Men’s retreat where young male amputees come and focus on faith, fitness, and healthy living.
Bethany has done so many amazing things in her career as a surfer despite the adversity she had to overcome. She never stopped, she never gave up, and she never stayed scared. She knew that she had to start surfing again right away because she wasn’t going to let the shark attack take anything else away from her.
She’s used her position as a professional athlete to promote living a fit and healthy lifestyle and to inspire other young athletes and amputees that anything was possible for them in life if they just didn’t stop.
Everyone in life will face many setbacks, but it is how we react to these setbacks that define us. Do we stop moving or do we remain unstoppable? We all need to be more like Bethany, we need to be strong and we need not let fear define who we are or we can become.
Thanks for listening to this episode about Bethany Hamilton and be sure to tune in for a new episode next Monday.