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Shark-Bite Victim Eager to Return to the Water

Bethany Hamilton, 13, lost most of her left arm while surfing. But she doesn't intend to quit.

November 23, 2003|Matt Sedensky | Associated Press Writer

KILAUEA, Hawaii — She was lying on her surfboard, taking a break after catching some early morning waves, when the gray blur emerged near her left arm as it dangled in the Pacific.

Bethany Hamilton was suddenly being jerked back and forth.

"I looked down at the red water," she recalled. "Right away, I knew it was a shark and I knew my arm was gone."

Bethany, 13, lost more than half her blood and all but four inches of her arm, although those who witnessed the attack say she never screamed or panicked.

"There's no need for that," she said in an interview nearly three weeks after the Halloween attack, part of a series of interviews and TV appearances. "I wasn't that scared. I didn't think I was going to die or anything."

Before the attack, Bethany was a top amateur surfer who was expected to turn pro. Now she is unsure whether she will ever surf competitively again. But she said she will not give up her passion.

Tall and lean, with blond hair and a tan, Bethany has accepted her misfortune with remarkable serenity.

"There's no time machine," she said. "I can't change it. That was God's plan for my life and I'm going to go with it."

For all the nightmarish drama that the shark attack conveys, Bethany recounts it with nonchalance: She arose around 5 a.m. on Oct. 31, heading out to do what she loves -- surfing with her best friend, Alana Blanchard. After about half an hour of action, she took a break, dangling her arm in the ocean when the 15-foot tiger shark attacked.

Alana's father, Holt, who was surfing nearby, used a surf leash as a tourniquet. Fellow surfers towed her in on a surfboard. She blacked out briefly, then woke up ashore.

When she reached Wilcox Memorial Hospital, another amazing part of the story unfolded: The girl's father, Tom Hamilton, had been lying on the operating table, moments away from knee surgery, when a doctor burst through the doors, saying the room was needed for a shark-attack victim. When he heard it was a 13-year-old, Tom Hamilton's heart sank. He knew it was either his daughter or her best friend.

Bethany spent nearly a week in the hospital and has remained largely in seclusion since then.

When her bandages were removed -- and her stump was revealed -- one of her brothers turned white. Her mother nearly collapsed. And her grandmother went outside and wept.

Last week, her stitches were to come out and she awaited word on when she could return to the water.

"If I was like a person that just quit surfing after this, I wouldn't be a real surfer," she said. "I'm definitely going to get back in the water."

Bethany hopes to be fitted with prosthetics that will allow her to continue not only to surf but to play the guitar.

She plans to try snowboarding for the first time this winter, and she is aiming for a career in photography.

Around Bethany's neck hangs a glittering gold surfboard -- a get-well gift from a family friend. It has a diamond in the center and a bite taken out of the top, just like her own board, with its 16-inch gash.

Bethany said the attack is "pretty much all I think about," and she has revisited the horrible event in her dreams four times since the attack.

But, she said: "If you don't get over it, then you'll just be sad and cry."

On the Net:

http://www.bethany hamilton.com/

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