Sounding Off: Her story will inspire youth

Never again will I accept the argument that the youth in our country, or the world for that matter, no longer have positive role models to look up to and admire. Time and time again we have seen individuals, especially professional athletes, exhibit unethical behavior, bad moral choices and indiscretions of such a magnitude that we are at a loss for words when trying to defend them to our children.

Well, this is not a story about that.

This story is about Bethany Hamilton. If your children are near, invite them to listen, for this is a tale of a bona fide hero who endured a tragedy of epic proportion unlike anything you will ever know.

Hamilton's life changed forever in a split second when she was 13.

I had the privilege of going to a recent signing in front of Jack's Surfboards in Huntington Beach for Hamilton's autobiographical movie, "Soul Surfer," which opens in theaters Friday.

I knew her story well and had followed her progress and success for eight years. In person, I was not expecting to see such an angel, so incredibly sophisticated and grown up. She exuded grace and courage. More than 600 girls and boys lined up to meet the statuesque blond surfer who stands at 5 feet, 11 inches. They arrived to meet their hero hours before her scheduled arrival time of 1 p.m.

At 8 a.m. Oct. 31, 2003, at Tunnels, a renowned surfing spot on the Hawaiian island of Kauai, Hamilton and her best friend Alana Blanchard, both 13 then, paddled out together. Surfing was something they had shared since early childhood. They were super stoked to be surfing on a pristine sunny, Hawaiian day.

After paddling out, Hamilton looked into the distance for a nice set when, with no warning, a tiger shark came from underneath her, engulfing her surfboard in its insanely powerful jaws, along with 90% of her left arm. To this day, she doesn't recollect the pain, just tremendous pressure.

The hospital in Kauai was at least an hour away, and she was losing blood so rapidly. It's a miracle she didn't bleed to death.

That was the first of many miracles she credits to her deep religious faith.

Coincidentally, her dad was at the hospital about to have knee surgery, when he was abruptly wheeled out of the operating room. He was told that a young female surfer had been gravely injured. He knew it had to be his daughter or her friend.

Hamilton lost her entire left arm that day to a shark that was later caught and killed. Upon testing, it was determined that the shark was mentally ill, and it was categorized as a freak, unprovoked random act, atypical of the species.

Hamilton never once asked, "Why me?" She looks upon the accident as a test of her faith in God. She never complained, never felt sorry for herself. Although a prosthetic arm was made for her, the injury was so high up on her arm, it can't connect to nerves that would make it move or respond. Hamilton never wears it; although profoundly grateful for the opportunity, she chooses to face her situation head on.

She is not ashamed.

On Nov. 26, 2003, Hamilton, along with Blanchard, went into those pristine blue waters with "Stubby," her own nickname for her new board, while tons of local onlookers watched from the beach. Less than six weeks after the attack, with an ear-to-ear grin, Hamilton paddled out, alternating her one good arm from side to side. With sheer determination and her deep love and passion for surfing, she figured out her own method of catching the wave early, standing up with the assistance of a wooden handle attached to the board, and conquering what is for most of us the biggest setback a human could endure. Now, that's a hero.

As I waited to speak with Hamilton about her movie, I walked through the long line of kids and parents. One young lady, Chloe Levine, was with her dad, clutching her surfboard for Bethany to sign. She looked so excited as her turn drew closer. I asked Chloe, "What would you like Bethany to autograph on your board?" Her reply: "You are my hero." Yes, Chloe, there are still heroes for you in this world.

Believe, always believe.

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