In 2003, when Hawaiian surfer Bethany Hamilton was just 13 years old, she lost her arm in a shark attack while surfing in Kauai.
After losing nearly two-thirds of her blood, her life and future in surfing were anything but guaranteed. Surfing with one arm is a tall order, and doing so professionally nearly impossible, but when you combine unthinkable passion, unrelenting resilience, and the desire to fulfill lifelong goals, the impossible seems a little more feasible.
Her positive approach has also given her a unique perspective on life after the attack.
“Looking in hindsight, I see all the beauty and good that’s come from the loss of my arm that I wouldn’t change life to be how I think it should be, but rather just embracing life as it is.”
Miraculously, just 26 days after the attack, she was back on her board. Two years after that, she was a national champion.
Hamilton’s faith proved crucial in her return to the sport.
“When tough times come my way,” Hamilton told CNN World Sport’s Patrick Snell from Kauai, “I definitely rely on my faith in God and just be like ‘hey God I don’t know why I lost my arm but I’m going to trust you and know that good can come from this situation.’”
If Hamilton’s faith helped her surf again, her natural ability and work ethic vaulted her to the top of her sport.
She won the National Scholastic Surfing Association National Championship for the 18-and-under age group in 2005. She made her World Tour debut in 2009, with her best result coming in 2016 when she beat then six-time world champion Stephanie Gilmore and, world No. 1 at the time, Tyler Wright, in a third-place finish at the Fiji Women’s Pro.
Passion for surfing
After losing an arm in a shark attack, most people would try and avoid returning to the place of the incident, but not Hamilton.
“I guess my passion for surfing outweighed my fear of sharks, and I was just waiting until the doctor said I had the OK to get in the ocean.”
Hamilton’s mindset played a big role in her journey to the top of surfing. “This is what I dreamed of, and the loss of my arm didn’t stop that dream,” she reflects.
“It’s just my mindset and my approach to the obstacle and thinking on what I can do and how you know what is possible versus, what’s the challenge of it.”
As a wife and mother Hamilton tackles new obstacles every day, and she enjoys figuring out how to conquer each one, not least “trying to figure out the jump rope with one arm, and it’s a super fun challenge.”
Her unique journey and positive perspective has inspired people around the world and has now manifested itself into a documentary, ‘Bethany Hamilton: Unstoppable.’
The film shows Hamilton’s remarkable journey and highlights her triumphs over every obstacle life throws at her, from surfing with one arm, to raising two young boys.
Keen to encourage others to, “live an unstoppable life,” she says she feels “privileged to be a role model.”
As good a surfer as Hamilton is, she is not immune to wipeouts, but every time she gets knocked down, she gets back on her board.
That philosophy of dealing with one wave at a time is one she also practices in life in dealing with the challenges that have been thrown at her.