Woman of the Week: Bethany Hamilton

Bethany Hamilton

“Whatever your situation might be, set your mind to whatever you want to do and put a good attitude in it, and I believe you can succeed. You are not going anywhere just sitting on your butt moping around.”

Bethany Hamilton was born on February 8, 1990, in Lihue, Hawaii. She is the youngest of three children, and the only girl. Bethany’s childhood consisted of the relaxing sound of the waves coming to shore and the feeling of the warm sun on her skin. With surfing being a priority in Hamilton’s life, she was home schooled from 6th grade, but decided to return back to school to gain a normal high school experience.

              All possibilities of normalcy went out the window on October 31, 2003. At the age of 13, Hamilton went surfing in the early morning along Tunnels Beach, Kauai with her best friend, Alana Blanchard, Alana’s father, Holt, and Alana’s brother, Byron. At around 7:30 AM a 14 foot long tiger shark attacked Hamilton and severed her left arm just below the shoulder. At the time there were numerous turtles in the area, and the shark probably mistook Hamilton’s dangling left arm for the animal it was hunting.

              After the attack the Blanchard’s helped Hamilton paddle back to shore, and Holt quickly fashioned a tourniquet out of a surfboard leash, and wrapped it around the stump off of Bethany’s left shoulder. The Blanchard’s put Hamilton into their car and rushed her to Wilcox Memorial Hospital, where a doctor was called in from a nearby hotel to perform lifesaving surgery on Hamilton. By the time they had arrived Hamilton had lost approximately 60% of her blood and had entered into hypovolemic shock. Her parents were already at the hospital when she arrived, but that was because Bethany’s father was scheduled to have surgery on his knee that morning. After the successful surgery, Hamilton spent about a week in recovery before she was released and returned to her home.

              When the news of the attack broke a family of fishermen, led by Ralph Young, presented photos to investigators of a 14 foot long tiger shark they had caught and killed about a mile from the attack site. Upon investigation it was discovered that the dead shark had surfboard debris in its mouth, and when measurements were taken and compared to Hamilton’s broken board, they were found to be a match. In late 2004, the police officially confirmed that the shark the Young family had killed was the same shark that attacked Bethany Hamilton.

              Despite the trauma that Hamilton suffered from the attack, she was determined to return to surfing as soon as possible. One month later, she did just that. Hamilton, with the help of her family, taught herself how to surf with just one arm. She had to kick more to make up for the loss of her left paddling arm, and required a slightly thicker than standard handle for her right arm, but now she surfs with the standard short competitive performance short boards. Less than a year after her attack, on January 10, 2004 Bethany Hamilton entered into her first of many major competitions. In that year and in 2005, Hamilton took first at the NSSA National Competition. Although 2005 is considered to be her bet year as a surfer, she has continued entering competitions, and just recently took third place in the 2016 Fiji Women’s Pro Competition.

              Since the attack much of Bethany Hamilton’s life has become public, and many view her to be an inspirational figure. She has been asked several questions about her attack and has confirmed that she felt normal when she was bitten and did not feel much pain, but she also stated that on the way to the hospital she felt numb. So many people were curious about Bethany’s story that a movie was put into production, and on April 8, 2011, the movie Soul Surfer was released and made a total of $47.1 million at the box office. While promoting the movie Hamilton was asked in an interview if she had the chance to go back and change everything, and keep her arm, would she? Hamilton answered that she wouldn’t because she can embrace more people now with one arm then she ever could with two.

              Bethany Hamilton could have easily admitted defeated that morning in October. She could have walked away from surfing and lived out her life trying to embrace whatever semblance of normalcy that she had left. Instead, Hamilton chose to rise to the challenge. She wanted to surf, and the loss of an arm was not a good enough excuse in her book. There are times in everyone’s life when we feel like a shark has come up out of the water and attacked us, ripping away a piece of us and severing it permanently from ourselves. Those moments can feel like the end, but they aren’t. If you stay calm and determined   like Bethany, you can weather the storm and come out a survivor.