Imagine being a champion surfer and one day having a shark bite off your arm. Not only will you have to live through the rest of your life with one arm, your surfing career might well be at an end. Is there a bright side to this story?
We wrote about Bethany Hamilton in the Spring 2006 issue of World Vision magazine. And her extraordinary story is now the subject of the major motion picture “Soul Surfer,” due for release on April 8 and starring AnnaSophia Robb, Helen Hunt, and Dennis Quaid.
At the World Vision transitional housing center, Bethany talks with 13-year-old Ketsara who lost her mother and home to the tsunami, comparing the lessons they learned on how to handle tragedy and loss. (Jon Warren/WV)
Bethany did indeed lose her arm to a tiger shark when she was just 13, but within a month she was back in the water, trying to find the next great wave. That spirit gave World Vision an idea. Following the Asian tsunami, fishing communities we were working with in Thailand had become petrified of the ocean from which they derived their living. Could Bethany help?
Bethany traveled to Phuket, where she talked with villagers about her own devastating ocean experience. One of her key points: Shark attacks and tsunamis are rare events; we ought not allow them to dictate the way we live the rest of our lives. Bethany persuaded some village youngsters to head into the ocean with her, where—much to their delight—she gave them their first-ever surfing lesson.
With the movie coming out soon, I got in touch with Bethany who's now 21. She’s delighted with the way the film has turned out. She had a hand in picking AnnaSophia to play her, assisted with the script, and acted as a technical consultant on the surfing scenes. Her biggest buzz, though, has been audience reaction to the previews—including a girl about 7 years old who was born without an arm and was thrilled to see another single-armed person succeed. She had even written a book, A Dog Without a Paw, which she proudly presented to Bethany. In return, Bethany gave her signed poster of the movie.
“She was really sweet,” Bethany says, “and it was cool to show her that you can make the best of out life with one arm.”
Bethany’s own life proves that point. She still spends about six months of the year on the women’s professional surfing circuit, and last year she placed 25th on the women’s world rankings. I ask her if she ever fears another shark attack, and she just laughs: “I try not to focus on that. I just try to focus on having fun.”
Her message to others who have faced a terrible blow: “Things happen for a reason, and good can come out of it. In my experience, so much beauty has come out of a terrible thing.”
Bethany introduces surfing to children from villages devastated by the tsunami. (Jon Warren/WV)
This post originally appeared on the World Vision Magazine Blog.