Bethany Meilani Hamilton Dirks is an American professional surfer who lost an arm in a vicious shark and surprised everyone by making a victorious comeback to professional surfing after overcoming this harrowing experience. As someone who loved surfing from early childhood, she always wanted to become a professional surfer. Since her parents were also surfers they began training her even before she turned five, and she participated in her first surf competition, the Rell Sun Menehune event on Oahu, when she was eight. Winning the competition boosted her confidence and strengthened her love for the sport. Over the next few years she effortlessly moved up the rankings in Amateur surfing competition and was blossoming into a formidable competitor on the surfing scenario. She was just 13 when a leisurely morning surf turned into a nightmare when a shark attacked her, biting off the full length of her left arm. The gutsy girl survived the attack in spite of losing lots of blood. She was deeply traumatized by the event, but decided that she would not let it thwart her professional ambitions. The determined girl returned to surfing within weeks of the incident and became a source of inspiration and hope to millions around the world.
Childhood & Early Life
Bethany Hamilton was born on 8 February, 1990, on the island of Kauai, Hawaii, to Tom and Cheri Hamilton. She has two older brothers, Noah and Timmy.
Her whole family loved surfing and her parents began teaching her how to surf even before she turned five. Surfing was in her blood and she became fascinated with the sport early on.
Her family is very religious and has an undying faith in God. Bethany too began her relationship with God at a young age as her parents religiously taught her about God and read stories from the Bible to her.
In 1998, she participated in her first real Surf Competition: Rell Sunn Menehune Surfing Championships on Oahu, Hawaii, and won both the short and long board divisions. Having tasted her first competitive success, Bethany was raring to become a professional competitive surfer.
When she was just nine years old she received her first major surf sponsorships from Rip Curl and Tim Carroll Surfboards. Over the next couple of years she steadily moved up the rankings in Amateur surfing competitions by winning several events.
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On 31 October 2003, she went for a morning surf along Tunnels Beach, Kauai, with her best friend Alana Blanchard and her family. She was enjoying a leisurely day, lying on her surfboard with her left arm dangling in the water when suddenly a tiger shark surfaced from beneath the water and attacked her.
She was taken aback by the attack and was shocked to see that the shark had bitten off her left arm just below the shoulder. Alana and her father rushed to her help and soon she was transported to Wilcox Memorial Hospital.
She had lost a lot of blood and felt numb on her way to the hospital. On the way to the hospital, one of the paramedics held her hand and assured her that God will take care of her.
Initially the doctors told her parents that her chances of survival were very slim. But she bravely fought on against all odds and survived. She was very traumatized by this incident but did not allow it to overtake her love for surfing.
Within weeks of the attack, she returned to surfing. While making her comeback to surfing she used a custom-made board that was longer, thicker, and equipped with a handle for her right arm. But with time she learned to use standard equipment.
She entered a major competition on 10 January, 2004, her first one since the attack. Getting back to the competitive turf energized her and she was determined not to let her disability get in the way of her professional ambitions.
Later in 2004 she wrote about her experiences regarding the shark attack and her miraculous recovery and comeback in her autobiography, ‘Soul Surfer: A True Story of Faith, Family, and Fighting to Get Back on the Boar’. The book became very popular and became a best-seller.
She became a celebrity following the success of her book and appeared as a guest in numerous television shows including ‘The Biggest Loser’, ‘20/20’, ‘Good Morning America’, ‘Inside Edition’, ‘The Oprah Winfrey Show’, ‘The Ellen DeGeneres Show’, and ‘The Today Show’.
In 2011, a biopic drama film, ‘Soul Surfer’ based on her autobiography ‘Soul Surfer: A True Story of Faith, Family, and Fighting to Get Back on the Board’ was released. The film had Anna Sophia Robb portraying the character of Bethany with Helen Hunt and Dennis Quaid playing her parents. The film was well received by the audience.
Awards & Achievements
She won the ESPY Award for Best Comeback Athlete in 2004 and was also given the Courage Teen Choice Award.
In 2005, she received the “Mildred Babe Dirdrikson-Zacharias Courage Award” from the United States Sports Academy.
Personal Life & Legacy
She met Adam Dirks, a youth minister, in 2012 and formed a close relationship with him. They got married in August 2013 in a lavish wedding in front of 300 friends and family members. The couple had their first child, a boy, in June 2015.