Bethany Hamilton is one of those ordinary people who overcame great adversity to become the best in the world. When she was a budding 13-year-old surfer, a shark attack took her arm and almost her life. Yet, she conquered her trauma and became one of the most accomplished surfers in the game.
Born a surfer
Raised in a surfing family, Bethany Hamilton took up the sport early, acquiring her first sponsorship at 9. By the end of the decade, she had won several surfing competitions, including the infamous Rell Sun Menehune contest.
A near-tragic shark encounter
On the morning of October 31st, 2003, Hamilton went out surfing along Tunnels Beach, Kauai with her best friend, Alana Blanchard, and Alana’s father and brothers. She was lying on her surfboard with her left arm dangling in the water when she felt an intense grip. After grappling for a few seconds, she got free and adjusted herself on the board. It was not until she saw her screaming friends and the bloody water around her that the pain came flooding. Her arm had been severed below the shoulder by a 14-foot-long tiger shark.
Alana’s father swooped in to help. He used his surfboard leash to fashion a quick tourniquet and hurriedly led her to shore. From there, they rushed her to Wilcox Memorial Hospital. By the time Bethany went under the knife, she had already lost 60% of her blood and was in hypovolemic shock.
An unexpected concern
Thanks to the quick response of her best friend’s father and the hospital, Hamilton was out of danger in a few hours. But, she had to stay admitted for a week to recover. The incident garnered overwhelming media attention. The world wanted to know what happened and what it meant for her blooming surfing career.
While in the hospital, Hamilton tried to think back to the attack.
“I had one pretty funny thought. I was thinking; I wonder if I am going to lose my sponsor.” She recalled.
Her concern was unexpected but warranted. She did not know how the loss of her arm would impact her surfing prowess.
The bumpy road to recovery
Hamilton was back in the water only one month after the incident. But, she quickly realized that standard boards required a great deal of effort to balance and move with one arm.
Although she got a custom board with a handle to assist her right hand, she could not always make it under large waves when duck diving.
Moreover, she had to drop into the waves later than usual because she could not generate enough power to drop at the same point as most other surfers.
Despite all that, Hamilton had the tenacity to embrace her unique challenges and work on them.
She gradually learned to substitute her arm with more foot action. She also put countless hours into training and therapy.
In no time, she was proficient enough to compete again.
Today, Bethany Hamilton is a highly celebrated pro surfer. In her spare time, she runs her foundation, Friends of Bethany, which supports amputees and encourages them to overcome difficulties as she did.
The takeaway is this:
Many people wonder how Hamilton could have recovered and returned to surfing so quickly. Surfing was her lifelong dream. Her deep passion for what she loved gave her the drive to overcome injury and trauma and bounce back.
Hamilton’s incredible story tells us that stumbling is not falling. Just because you made the wrong move in business or bet on dud stock does not mean it is the end.
Pick yourself up, pat the dust off, and get back on the ring. Keep doing what you love, and your resilience will bear fruit.
“My fear of losing surfing was greater than my fear of sharks.”