Hamilton an icon of resilience
There is something romantic about surfing. It feels uniquely American, suspended in the summer amber of Gidget movies.
Her sport may be one reason surfer Bethany Hamilton emerged as an icon of resilience. In some ways, she will always be 13. Golden-haired and slender, halfway between childhood and what's beyond. She has always been a savant when it comes to the ocean.
Hamilton could have been defined by the moment a shark took her arm as she was on her surfboard in the waters near her Hawaiian home in 2003. But it turned out the attack was just a catalyst for something bigger.
"I think really what connects people to my life is that we all face difficult challenges and sometimes they hold us back," Hamilton said.
She lost 60 percent of her blood that day, but less than a month later she was back in the water. It's a timeline that still shocks her. Hamilton's improbable return to competitive surfing just a year later inspired hundreds of letters, a feature film and has given form and purpose to her life.
"Definitely people like to focus on what happened when I was 13, but it's a good opportunity to show what I've overcome and what I'm up to now," Hamilton said.
On a hot day in June, Hamilton was in Times Square striking a yoga pose as part of an initiative by Tampax to promote a new line of products for active girls and women. That's still Hamilton's demographic, as you can see from the comments that pepper her personal website, and the girls who reach out via social media.
She has over 185,000 followers on Twitter, and she shares her story and motivation, as well as the deep Christian faith that she credits for getting her through the worst moments. When she came to New York, she coupled yoga practice in Times Square with appearances at a Philadelphia church and a New Jersey surf shop.
Gil Trusty, an associate pastor at Calvary Chapel of Philadelphia, said Hamilton has an effortless way of connecting with the groups who came to hear her on subsequent days talk about her beliefs.
"She doesn't have what 99.9 percent of us have," Trusty said, "and in many ways she's more alive than many people are ever going to be."
Hamilton has grown up a lot in the 10 years since the injury. She has logged a lot more hours in the sun and water, and will compete again late this summer in three Association of Surfing Professionals events. She is currently tied for the 48th spot in their rankings, the last name on the list.
Now 23, she is getting married this summer to Adam Dirk. She met him through friends, "sort of a blind date situation" and, despite the fact her story had been made into the movie "Soul Surfer" not long before, he didn't really know who she was.
"He had kind of known, but he grew up in Kansas so it's not like surfing is a big subject out there," Hamilton said.
So here we have this compelling girl who has grown up and moved on in front of our eyes. Her career as a competitive surfer appears to be winding down given her spot on the rankings list, but her work in other areas, like her non-profit to help others who have lost limbs, is going strong.
Hamilton continues to work to take one awful day and see how much good she can wring from it. To see her up close, Hamilton isn't about glitz or glamour; nothing about her screams celebrity. As much as she has changed over the years since her accident, she has kept the laid-back demeanor of her Hawaiian home.
But underneath it, we know just how hard she can fight.