Westmont College students have been hearing about resiliency this year during their thrice weekly chapel talks, and Friday’s speaker, Bethany Hamilton, was the perfect embodiment of overcoming adversity.
Hamilton, a 25-year-old from Hawaii, was attacked by a 15-foot tiger shark as a 13-year-old while surfing off the coast of Kauai in 2003.
The shark’s bite caused her to lose her left arm, but Hamilton returned to surfing just weeks after the attack and continued to surf professionally, eventually winning numerous surfing competitions around the globe.
Hamilton’s autobiography, Soul Surfer, was eventually turned into a full-length film of the same name, in which Hamilton did her own stunt surfing.
On Friday, the college’s gym was packed to capacity with students who listened to Hamilton speak about her life and overcoming the challenges she’s faced.
“For me, my greatest passions in life have been faith and surfing,” she told the crowd.
Hamilton talked about finding her Christian faith early in life, as well as discovering surfing as a very young child.
“My parents threw me in the ocean before I could even walk,” she said.
Hamilton was eventually homeschooled to give her more time to surf competitively, and “I was driven each day to take steps to reach my goal.”
The morning of the shark attack, Hamilton was surfing near Tunnels Beach, Kauai, with a friend, and the girl’s father and brother.
“One minute it’s the most beautiful day in the world, and the next my arm is gone and I’m just hoping to survive,” she told the crowd.
As her friend’s father wrapped a tourniquet around her shoulder, he told her to keep talking to make sure she was conscious. She was driven to the hospital and survived the attack, despite losing a massive amount of blood.
“I could have died, but I guess God had different plans for my life,” she said.
Hamilton said she remembered being in the hospital and thinking, as a 13-year-old, that perhaps she could bring hope to other people through her story.
“As I started living life with one arm … That’s hard to accept,” she said, adding that it was difficult to start to look in the mirror and wonder where her arm went.
Hamilton said that it was hard to become an amputee as a young girl entering her teenage years, when young women are acutely aware of society’s expectation of how to look and act.
“Sometimes I would fall into those lies and get carried away thinking about that … but I knew God had a future or a plan for my life,” she said.
Hamilton’s husband, Adam, also took the stage and the pair were interviewed by two Westmont students, who asked the couple about their goals and plans for the future, which include raising their son, with whom Hamilton is seven months pregnant.
“It’s going to be an awesome adventure,” Hamilton said of parenting.
Hamilton also talked about some of her incredible surfing feats, which include being towed in by a guide to surf Jaws, the surf break on Hawaii’s north shore, to catch a wave that exceeded 20 feet in height.
She’s also working on a new film, Surfs Like a Girl, that encourages girls to stay active and pursue sports.
“I feel so blessed to be able to surf for a living, and be able to speak,” she said.