By Dick Rolfe – CEO
On October 31, 2003, (Halloween) the world changed forever for a 13 year-old surfer girl living in Hawaii. Bethany Hamilton was laying on her surfboard between waves when a 14′ tiger shark came up under her and bit off her arm clear to her shoulder. A horrific event like that would physically and emotionally scar most people forever. But, with a deep abiding faith in Jesus Christ, Bethany knew one thing above all else. “God loves me unconditionally.”
On Tuesday, March 1, 2011 I had the honor of interviewing Bethany Hamilton and Sarah Hill, her close friend and youth counselor from North Shore Christian Church in Kauai, Hawaii.
The time we spent together was for me both unusual and special. We were more like friends sharing personal stories than journalist and interviewees. So, rather than write in the typical Q & A format, I’d like to share some of who Bethany Hamilton is and the impression she left me with.
Bethany’s friend and mentor, Sarah Hill first met Bethany when she was sent to Kauai on a two month assignment for Awana, a national youth ministry. Sarah ended up staying on permanently, “because Tom and Sheri Hamilton ‘adopted’ me. The family has had more impact on my life than I’ve ever had on theirs.”
Sarah was an active surfer living in San Diego where she was nearly paralyzed from a surfing accident herself. Many surgeries and therapies taught Sarah how to endure trying circumstances, which prepared her to help Bethany through her challenges.
Bethany and I shared our earliest recollections of Jesus. We both had similar experiences. She always remembers God as a part of her life because her parents are both dedicated Believers. Sheri, Bethany’s mom is well-known as a true prayer warrior.
“My friend, Alana Blanchard and I both accepted Jesus into our hearts when we were 5 years old.” Alana and Bethany were born a few minutes apart and have been inseparable ever since, even on that fateful day in 2003.
Life for the Hamilton’s as a surfing family always had its challenges, but their faith got them through. It was that faith in tough times that gave them all, especially Bethany, the courage to see beyond the tragic loss of her arm. “It’s only an arm,” she told me. “There’s so much more to life than physical appearance.”
This photo was taken just 3 weeks after the shark attack in 2003. © Associated Press
According to Bethany, the movie, SOUL SURFER is “a pretty accurate account of my story. I’m thrilled that God has made this all possible. I’m just stepping back and putting it all in His hands.”
I was impressed with Bethany’s quiet and graceful acceptance of everyone around her, especially amid the pressures of a demanding schedule to promote the film. (No celebrity airs with her.) But, I also saw a deep inner strength shining through that quiet exterior that lets you know she’s intentional about her future and confident that God loves her right where she is.
I closed our time together by asking if, through all the busyness of life today, she missed the surf. She lowered her head, looked away and said, “I’d rather not talk about it.” She did get a chance to surf a few days later during a promotional stop in Miami.
There is a lot more I could add, but I’ll let Bethany finish the interview in her own words as they were taken from her book, Soul Surfer.
In Bethany’s Words:
- My strength came from my relationship with Christ and from the love and encouragement of my family and friends.
- I believe in God. I don’t mean that I believe in Him like a person might believe in, say, gravity or the sun coming up in the morning. Those are just facts that don’t mean anything. I mean I REALLY believe in God.
- I don’t know what other girls do before they go out in a heat [surfing competition], but for me the routine is pretty simple: I pray. I pray for safety for everyone and I pray for wisdom in my wave selection and ability to be at the right place at the right time.
- It’s hard for me to describe the joy I felt after I stood up and rode wave in for the first time after the attack. I was incredibly thankful and happy inside. The tiny bit of doubt that would sometimes tell me you’ll never surf again was gone in one wave.
- God did have something bigger planned for me. What we all needed to do was trust… and believe.
- I don’t pretend to have all the answers to why bad things happen to good people, but I do know that God knows all those answers, and sometimes He lets you know in this life…
- I have this thought every second of my life—Why me? Not negatively, like “Why did this terrible thing happen to me?” But more like “Why did God choose me and what does He have in mind for me?”
- When people ask me what my faith in Christ means to me, I usually answer in just one word—everything! This was true before and after the shark attack.
- I see that God is able to use my story to help others. Once a girl came up and told me that she had had cancer. When she learned my story it made her realize that she didn’t need to give up.
- I think that if I can help other people find hope in God, then that is worth losing my arm for.
- My friend Sarah says that I get to be the voice of God. I usually roll my eyes when she says it, because if I were God, I would never have chosen me of all people to speak for him.
Quotes taken from Soul Surfer: A True Story of Faith, Family, and Fighting to Get Back on the Board by Bethany Hamilton published 2004 by MTV Books and Pocket Books