Do you know those words from a Frank Sinatra song, “Just pick yourself up and get back in the race?” Well, if anyone has managed to live up to those words, then it is Bethany Meilani Hamilton.
Bethany was born on the 8th February 1990 in Lihue, Hawaii to a deeply religious family. From a toddler, she had a love for the sea and at an early age, was riding a surf board through the waves. Before long, she was a really competent and competitive surfer.
But, then on October 31st 2003, her life was changed forever. Very early in the morning of that day, Bethany went surfing with her best friend Alana Blanchard, along with Alana’s father and brother.
She was laying on her surfboard watching the turtles swim around her, letting her left arm dangle in the sea. Suddenly, without warning, a 14-15 foot Tiger Shark attacked her surf board, biting off her left arm at the shoulder.
The shocked Blanchard family quickly moved into action and paddled Bethany to the shore. Alana’s father managed to create a tourniquet around the injury with the strap of a surfboard and then they rushed her to the local Wilcox Memorial Hospital.
Bizarrely, Bethany’s father was already at the hospital as he was due to have an operation on his knee the same day. He was confronted with his daughter close to death as by this time, she had lost 60% of her blood.
His operation forgotten, he and his family waited for the outcome of Bethany’s surgery. It was a success and Bethany was soon on the road to recovery. The story became headline news and Bethany gave many interviews over her next few days in the hospital.
In the meantime, a family of local fishermen led by Ralph Young, had caught and killed a 14-15 foot Tiger Shark, just about a mile away from where Bethany was attacked.
They found pieces of surf board still in its mouth and it was later confirmed that it was the same shark that had cost Bethany her left arm. (That same surf board was later donated to the California Surf Museum.)
Bethany left the hospital and unbelievably, was keen to get back to surfing. Within a month, she was back to riding the waves with a custom-made board. It was slightly thicker and longer than normal, with a strap for her right hand to make paddling easier.
By kicking a lot more than usual, she was able to compensate for the loss of her left arm. Just the following year, on 10th January 2003, Bethany came in 5th in the Major NSSA Nationals Competition. Then the following year, she came 1st in the same competition.
Over the next few years Bethany continued to compete, doing really well, until she fulfilled her dream of becoming a professional surfer, which she still is today, using the normal competition standard surf board.
She has been featured in a film, been on many chat shows as well as having her own autobiography, “Soul Surfer”.
But I think maybe the best thing for Bethany to date, is that she got engaged this year. She is a beautiful looking young woman, and amazing as she has been, Bethany always wondered if she could be loved by a man after the loss of her arm.
She need not have worried; she has met the love of her life who loves Bethany for being Bethany.
I am sure that when she eventually has her own family, she will be introducing them to the first love of her life, the ocean waves.
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