Bethany Hamilton had every reason to be angry. At age 13, she was an avid surfer with the world at her fingertips when a horrific shark attack claimed her arm — and forever changed her life.
But Hamilton, now 24, didn’t allow what happened to her to dictate the rest of her life. She went on to become a professional surfer and a motivational speaker after the 2003 attack, and is among those featured in “The Current,” a new documentary about athletes with disabilities who have found healing through the power of the water.
She told TheBlaze that her mother taught her the importance of being thankful at a very young age — a lesson that came in handy when she later grappled with losing her arm and the possibility of not being able to continue surfing.
Rather than embrace anger in the wake of the attack, Hamilton turned the life-altering event into something positive, relying on her Christian faith to sustain her.
“First of all, knowing God and my faith in God is more than enough — and just being able to contribute [to help others],” she said of her ability to forge on. “It’s really sad if you get caught up … [in] self-pity and [being] ungrateful for what you have.”
Hamilton, who gained international attention after her story of survival spread and was told in book and feature film form, said that her platform has given her a mission that she’s intent on fulfilling.
“I think one thing I feel a responsibility in is just continuing to encourage young girls to make good decisions in the different things they’re facing — body issues and purity and making decisions to say ‘no’ to drugs and alcohol and be wise in that — and I think that’s where I feel a little bit of responsibility,” she said.
Hamilton knows adversity well. After losing her arm to the 14-foot tiger shark, she said one of her biggest fears was having to give up her passion for surfing, saying she wasn’t sure she’d be able to physically perform to the level she was at before the attack.
“I was so determined to get back into the water,” she added.
Confronting her biggest fear, Hamilton not only rode the waves again, but she eventually became a professional surfer.
While she did have to overcome a fear of sharks, she said surfing actually helped in her recovery.
“For me, it was just like getting back in the ocean helped me overcome … of course I had to overcome my fear of sharks and surfing out further,” she said. “But over time I spent more and more time in the water.”
In addition to the physical and emotional challenges, Hamilton said that she wasn’t prepared for the fame that came along with her injury. She wasn’t the sort of teen who did well under the spotlight, she said, and dealing with the attention wasn’t easy. But eventually she adjusted.
“I’ve learned so much in all that I’ve been through,” Hamilton continued. “It’s been awesome to be able to live for God and be a good role model for young girls and be able to share my story — and everyone goes through challenging things. We can overcome with Christ.”
Hamilton — who married youth pastor Adam Dirks last year — frequently shares her Christian faith with audiences, calling it the sustaining force that guided her through recovery. She recently detailed her story at the National Prayer Breakfast, saying that she once thought she had lost more than just her arm — but that God helped her through the obstacles.
“I realize that God provides a way out for us and he sent Jesus to come and die on the cross for our sins. I’m honored to be able to live life knowing God forgives me of my sins and helps me get through things I have to face,” Hamlton said.
As for why she’s never hesitant to share her faith, she added, “I’m not fearful in sharing that because there’s no doubt in my mind that Jesus Christ is God. I’m not ashamed of Christ and I want to just share him with other people.”
“The Current” documentary premieres March 12 on EPIX.