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Bethany Hamilton Soul Surfer

Photo Credit: Mike Coots

What You Do Next Matters

“No matter what sort of difficulties, or how painful the experience is, if we lose our hope, that’s our real disaster.” -Dalai Lama XIV

Earlier this summer I shared an essay about how we all endure moments that drastically change everything that happens after it.

A date that pivots dramatically from the life you planned to the life that will be.

So, what’s your date?

The time the phone rang with an unexpected diagnosis or the soft, grave tone of a friend asking, “Have you heard?” The date your marriage ended, a parent passed away, or you endured the indescribable loss of a child. It’s a date that changed your life forever.

For Bethany Hamilton, it’s October 31, 2003.

The Date that Changed Life for Bethany Hamilton

On that date, at age 13, avid surfer Bethany was attacked by 14-foot tiger shark. The shark surfaced, clasped onto Bethany’s shoulder and tore off the young girl’s arm.

Through the heroic actions of a friend’s father, a perfect link up with EMT, a speedy trip to a hospital and an operating room waiting for her, Bethany survived. She lost 60% of her blood, her left arm, and what seemed like any realistic hope of ever surfing professionally.

Soon after that day, local news stories began covering the brutal attack of the young girl and her courageous recovery. In one interview, recorded just a week after the tiger shark took her left arm, the irrepressible character of this young woman revealed itself.

The interviewer sat across from Bethany, whose blonde hair framed eyes full of hope and a big, expectant smile. Beneath that smile, though, remained intense physical pain and new reality that she’d never have use of her left arm again. The interviewer asked if she thought she’d ever surf again?

In one of my favorite candid moments captured on film, Bethany looks at him, surprised, indignant, confident, and lovingly responds:

“Do I think? I know!”

Just four weeks after losing her arm, she was back in the water. Four months later she was surfing competitively. Within two years, Bethany Hamilton had won the national competition.

The loss of her arm, and the courage she revealed in getting back in the water, drew attention not only in surfing circles, but around the world. Letters poured in thanking her for giving others hope. She was invited onto Oprah, 20/20 and Good Morning America.

She won the ESPY Award for Best Comeback Athlete and the Courage Teen Choice Award. And Hollywood captured her story in the film Soul Surfer.

What We Can Learn from Bethany Hamilton’s Example

My friends, we all have a date that dramatically and tragically alters our lives.

More important than that date, though, is the decision to not be defeated and defined by that date, that loss, that tragedy. [Tweet this] | [Share on Facebook]

It wasn’t surfing that made Bethany famous. It also wasn’t a shark attack. No, it was the decision that what had happened to her didn’t have to define what happened next.

And it’s a decision we all have the right, the opportunity and the invitation to make in our lives, too.

My friends, no matter what sort of difficulties, or how painful the experience is, if we lose our hope, that’s our real disaster.

And once we tap into that hope, we are liberated to not only get back onto a surf board, but to remind the rest of the world watching that they can do it, too.

This is your day. Live Inspired.


I recently had an opportunity to visit with Bethany on the Live Inspired Podcast. We talked about the shark attack, her recovery and how she fought through the challenges with hope in her heart. We chatted about her mission work, faith, role as a mother, and what she’s working on next. It’s a terrific conversation with an amazing woman and I encourage you to check it out here.

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