Religion in Society

Bethany Hamilton's Brutal Shark Attack was 'God's Will'

| by Baptist Press

KANSAS CITY, Kan. --- Remember around six years ago when we heard of the surfer girl who lost her arm to a shark? Just about everybody I've spoken to can recount that news event. 

Her name is Bethany Hamilton and after hearing the details of her story, it sounds more like a Hollywood movie. Indeed, it soon will be. "Soul Surfer" is slated for a Spring 2011 release, and it's shaping up to be a watershed moment in biographical movies. Bethany and her family are devout Christians and together they are having an impact on the surfing community, young girls seeking solid role models, and anyone who has ever questioned, "Why me?"

Bethany Hamilton had already been surfing for several years when, at age 13, she and a few friends were a quarter mile off the North Shore of Kauai on Oct. 31, 2003, enjoying another tropical day in the Pacific paradise, when, in a split second, a 15-foot tiger shark came up from the deep and took a huge bite out of Bethany's surfboard -- and with it her left arm, clear up to the shoulder. Almost 20 minutes from shore, her friends were sure she would bleed to death (it is reported that she lost 60 percent of her blood that morning) before getting help. But cool heads and lots of prayer prevailed. 

From the book "Soul Surfer," published by MTV Books in 2004, page 70, Bethany states: "I had a shiny, light blue Rip Curl watch on my left hand that I was dangling in the water. I sometimes wonder if the reflection of that watch in the clear water is what attracted the shark. That's when I was suddenly aware of a large gray object closing in on my left side. He was slow and silent; he really crept up on me. If I had had my head turned I would have seen everything: the rolled-back eyes, the triangle-shaped teeth, the sandpaper-like skin, the pointy snout, the pulled-back gums. Luckily, all I saw was a blur." 

At Wilcox Memorial Hospital, Tom Hamilton, Bethany's father, was having a fairly common procedure done to his knee. Just after being given an epidural, the knee surgery was stopped because a wounded surfer was being rushed to this particular operating room. Tom, a surfer himself and therefore concerned for a sports comrade, soon discovered it was a 13-year-old girl who had been attacked by a shark. A father's instinct kicked in. He knew it was his little girl. How bad was it? He knew of others who had been attacked by these mysterious creatures of the deep. One acquaintance had lost a foot; another, a man who played the piano, lost a hand, and Tom had heard of yet another who died from a shark attack. He tried to get up, but the anesthetic had numbed him from the waist down. A Christian since 1980, Tom began to pray. He spent a torturous hour in the recovery room; "his mind was wild with scenarios of what might be happening in that operating room, the room he was supposed to be in."

Later, when her parents were allowed to enter the recuperation area, Bethany looked up at them, her shoulder encased in thick bandages, her face nearly white from blood loss, and a slight smile revealing silver braces. When viewing the home video of Bethany at that moment, one can only wonder if that brave smile was formed to comfort her family. When you get to know the now 19-year-old, sun-bleached blond champion surfer, you don't even have to ask her if she was thinking of others.

Since that fateful day, Bethany has astounded competitors and impressed the world with her determination and athletic ability. In 2008, she began competing full-time on the Association of Surfing Professionals World Qualifying Series. In her first competition against many of the world's best female surfers, she finished third. She has won countless surfing medals, been around the world wherever there is surfing and has been on numerous talk shows recounting her story, as well as proclaiming her love for Jesus. 

Bethany's dad says, "The remarkable thing about her is that she moved on. She dealt with it and moved on, faster than me or Cheri or her two brothers could. She was like, OK, this is what happened to me, this is how I'm going to be, and I'm going to deal with it and work with it."

Six years after the attack, Bethany's tale is being released on film by Sony Pictures through its spiritually friendly branch, Affirm Pictures. Dennis Quaid plays her father and Helen Hunt is featured as Bethany's mom. Singer Carrie Underwood takes on the role of a local youth minister. AnnaSophia Robb, she's the star of "Because of Winn-Dixie" and "Bridge to Terabithia," stars as Bethany.

Also professing a relationship with Jesus Christ, 16-year-old AnnaSophia (a native of Denver, Colo., who was taught to surf by Bethany), said in a recent interview: "Personality wise, we're a little different. She's definitely more 'chill' than I am -- part of that whole surfer vibe. But we are similar in a lot of ways. We're both very determined. We both have strong goals. Faith is a big part of our lives. And we both have fantastic families."

When asked what she hopes people will take away from this movie experience, Ms. Robb told the Christian press, "I know this is the obvious answer, but I hope they'll be inspired. It's a story about faith and perseverance. And while Bethany is amazing, she's still this everyday person. Hanging out with her, she's just Bethany. I'm hoping people will realize they can do anything, too. Because she did it."

I've had the distinct opportunity of interviewing many a celebrity, but never have I been more moved than by my time spent with Bethany and her family in Hawaii (they are a terrific team). I intend to do another article about my stay on the island and the privilege of getting to know the Hamiltons on their own turf (so to speak). For now, let me leave you with the most moving moment I had during my island stay, one that brings me peace and resolve. 

I asked her, "You've had a great influence on many people and obviously, the Lord has used this incident in your life. But if you could go back to that day, would you have stayed out of the water?"

I'm sure she had been asked the question before, but still she offered a thoughtful response. "Umm ... no. It was God's will for it to happen. So much good has come out of what seems like a terrible thing, and it's been an amazing journey. I'm still doing what I want to do. More than what I ever dreamed of. And I know that God's in control, that this has been a part of His plan." 

Knowing the Bible, actually being able to quote verses, helped sustain the family during their ordeal. One such verse, Jeremiah 29:11, remains in their daily prayer life: "'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the Lord, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'"