Monday, April 11, 2011

Bethany Hamilton: Surfer, Survivor, and Role Model

I've been writing a lot about smart, courageous youth in history and I've decided it's time to spotlight some modern heroes, too. The new movie Soul Surfer is based on the true story of professional surfer Bethany Hamilton. On October 31, 2003, thirteen-year-old Bethany Hamilton was out surfing with some friends when she was attacked by a fourteen foot long tiger shark. Fortunately, she survived, but she lost her left arm.
Bethany had to train herself to do simple tasks with one arm, such as cutting fruit, pulling her hair into a ponytail, and, of course, surfing.  That must have been the most difficult part. Surfing had always been Bethany's life, and she was used to living it with both arms. Arms are very useful things to a surfer, it's hard to paddle or balance without them. But Bethany didn't give up. How could she turn her back on the only world she ever knew?
Normally I don't like "amazing handicapped person" stories. The kind that make a person out to be a hero just for living their life. Marathon runners who happen to be deaf, artists who happen to use wheelchairs, singers who happen to have heart conditions-it's insulting. No one wants to be defined by their disability, especially when it's not related to what they do. But Bethany's inspiring because she had a taste of normal life first. She knew what she wanted and she knew how to get it.
So she kept trying, time after time, practice after practice, wave after wave. And when she finally got it right, she didn't content herself with little rides. She has gone on to win several awards, including the ESPN Best Comeback Athlete. She has inspired millions of people around the world, many of them with physical struggles themselves. Thank-you, Bethany, for staying strong and showing us all what we can do!

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