Who she is: When it comes to finding a role model for resilience,* Bethany Meilani Hamilton-Dirks is at the top of the list. Born on February 8, 1990, the American professional surfer survived a 2003 shark attack in which her left arm was bitten off. Ultimately, she returned to professional surfing, and shared her experience in the 2004 autobiography “Soul Surfer: A True Story of Faith, Family, and Fighting to Get Back on the Board.:http://www.amazon.com/Soul-Surfer-Story-Family-Fighting/dp/1416503463
What she does: In April 2011, the feature film “Soul Surfer” based on the book was released. Starring AnnaSophia Robb, Helen Hunt, and Dennis Quaid, the movie focuses on how Bethany is bolstered by the love of her parents who with her refusie to give up.
Why she does it: She planed to return to competition, although questions about her future continue to troubled her. Upon seeing the devastation in Thailand caused by the 2004 tsunami, Bethany discovered a greater purpose: to make a difference in the lives of others.
Here’s the back story. On October 31, 2003 Bethany, then 13, went for a morning surf along Tunnels Beach, Kauai, with best friend Alana Blanchard, Alana’s father, Holt, and brother Byron. Around 7:30 a.m., with numerous turtles in the area, she was lying on her surfboard with her left arm dangling in the water, when a 14-foot tiger shark attacked her, severing her left arm just below the shoulder.
The Blanchards helped paddle her back to shore, then Alana’s father fashioned a tourniquet out of a surfboard leash and wrapped it around the stump of her arm. She was rushed to Wilcox Memorial Hospital. By the time she arrived there she had lost over 60% of her blood and was in hypovolemic shock.
A doctor living in a hotel nearby raced to the rescue. Her father, who was scheduled to have knee surgery that morning, was already there, but she took his place in the operating room. She spent a week in recovery before being released. During subsequent media interviews, she confirmed that she felt normal when she was bitten and did not feel much pain from the bite at the moment of the disaster, but felt numb on the way to the hospital.
When the news broke out of the shark attack, a family of fishermen led by Ralph Young presented to investigators photos of a 14-foot-long tiger shark they had caught and killed about one mile from the attack site. It had surfboard debris in its mouth. When measurements of its mouth were compared with those of Bethany broken board, it matched. In late 2004, the police officially confirmed that it was the one that attacked her. The broken surfboard that she was riding during the attack is on display at the California Surf Museum.
Despite the trauma of the incident, Bethany was determined to return to surfing.
Three weeks after the incident, she returned to her board. Initially, she adopted a custom-made board that was longer and slightly thicker than standard and had a handle for her right arm, making it easier to paddle, and she learned to kick more to make up for the loss of her left arm. After teaching herself to surf with one arm, on January 10, 2004, she entered a major competition. She now uses standard competitive performance short-boards.
Since the attack, she has appeared as a guest on numerous television shows. Her manager, Roy “Dutch” Hofstetter, who went on to produce the film Soul Surfer, managed her rise through the media from shark attack victim to inspirational role model. The television shows she has appeared on include The Biggest Loser, 20/20, Good Morning America, Inside Edition, The Oprah Winfrey Show, The Ellen DeGeneres Show, The Today Show, and The Tonight Show, as well as in magazines People, Time, and American Girl. Additionally, she was the cover story in the premier issue of niNe magazine.
In 2004 she won the ESPY Award for Best Comeback Athlete and also received the Courage Teen Choice Award.
Bethany plays herself in the film “Dolphin Tale 2,” which revolves around the baby dolphin Hope’s story. Filming began in Clearwater, Florida, on October 7, 2013. It was released on September 12, 2014. Bethany and her husband, Adam Dirks, competed as a team on the 25th season of The Amazing Race, finishing in third place. Filmed in June 2014, it premiered on September 26 on CBS.
In 2015, Bethany gave birth to a son.
Learn more at bethanyhamilton.com.