What do you remember from when you were thirteen? I remember giving a speech at my 8th grade promotion ceremony and having a crush on the cutest boy in my grade. I remember starting high school and feeling both excited and nervous for a new chapter. I also remember thinking how huge the seniors looked!
Bethany Hamilton didn’t have the typical thirteen year old’s experience. On October 31, 2003, Bethany was attacked by a 14-foot tiger shark while surfing along Kauai’s North Shore. The shark took most of her left arm.
Since the shark attack, Bethany went on to realize her dream of becoming a professional surfer in 2007. She has shared her remarkable story around the world through speaking engagements and her philanthropic work. Most notably, Bethany’s story was depicted in the 2004 autobiographic film, Soul Surfer.
I absolutely love the film and recommend it to everyone. Her story is nothing short of amazing. Most teenage girls can’t tell a story of the time they were attacked by a shark and survived. I always find the most profound thing about her story, not to be the attack itself, but how she chose to respond.
In the film, the character of Bethany, played by Sophia Ann Robb, does not scream at all when she gets bit. Her “calmness” is credited as being the thing that may have saved her life. Instead of screaming, the character in the film quietly pleads, “Please, get me to the shore.” She even says, “Praise Jesus.” After several surgeries, real life Bethany was on her way to recovery. The hospital staff noted her positive attitude through it all. There are a number of pictures of Bethany smiling and bouncing around after her surgeries. Don’t forget, the girl just had her arm bitten off.
Bethany, who is extremely open about her Christian faith, credits it for being what saved her life that day. Whatever your beliefs may be, you have to stop here and take note of what this 13-year-old girl did. She just had her arm bitten off, but she remains calm. She doesn’t scream. After losing 60% of the blood in her body, she gets through several surgeries without infection. It is said that the human body can only lose up to a third a of its blood and still be functional. Bethany lost twice that amount. In one month, Bethany was up again surfing in the same ocean where she almost died. A little more than a year later, she won her first national title, taking first place in the Explorer Women’s division of the 2005 NSSA National Championships.
Twenty Something Advice for Anybody:
“Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you choose to respond.”
Charles R. Swindoll
I have heard time and time again that attitude is everything. I have heard that life is less about what happens to you and more what you chose to make of it. Never more has this advice made sense until now. So you may not have gotten bit by an actual shark, but there are a ton of other sharks in life. Depression, cancer, loneliness, poverty, divorce, single parent homes, loss of a loved one, the list goes on. We all have our hills and mountains to climb in life. Looking at Bethany’s story, I hope it encourages you to have faith during the hard times and to believe even when the odds are against you.
I always wonder what was going through Bethany’s mind as her friends drug her to the beach that day. Was she telling herself, “Hold on Bethany.” Was she thinking “my God, save me”? Was she saying scripture in her head? Was she telling herself she could do all things through Christ? Bethany’s story proves that the thoughts we allow matter. The words we speak matter. The faith we have is important.
Last week on August 14, a German woman was attacked by a shark while snorkeling about 100 feet off of Palauea Beach, Hawaii. After staying on life support for a week at Maui Memorial Medical Center, the 20-year-old, Jana Lutteropp, was pronounced dead on August 21. According to ABC News, the man, Rick Moore, who rescued her from the water, said she kept saying that she was going to die over and over again. When I heard this tragic story, again the thing that stood out to me was the reaction. Any shark attack is a horrific experience and when I heard that this young women was repeating she was going to die, which is of course a natural reaction, my heart sunk. I can only imagine her screaming out her death. I wish someone would have held her and told her she could make it. I am sure that Lutteropp put up a resilient fight, however. Moore even noted how inspired by her courage he was.
Of course, Lutteropp’s and Hamilton’s stories are not the same. There are probably several reasons why one survived and the other did not. Both stories, however, remind me of how fragile and uncertain this life can be. They also remind me of the importance of our thoughts, our words and where we put our faith. I hope that whatever you and I face in this life, we have enough faith to whisper to ourselves in the tragic moments, “I can do this.” I hope that we choose to get a little perspective and believe for the best even in the worst.