Almost a year ago, 13-year-old Bethany Hamilton was surfing with a friend in Hawaii when she was attacked by a shark and lost her left arm. Bethany, now 14, was invited on the “Today” show to talk about her book "Soul Surfer," which tells her tragic story and determination to get back on a surf board. Here’s an excerpt:
To be honest, I never wanted to write a book.
It actually took a lot of convincing by my family and friends, because I'm not someone who likes to talk a lot about myself or thinks I'm any big deal. But they saw something in my story that would be helpful and interesting to others — and they encouraged me to write it down. So here I am! And actually, when I really thought about it, it seemed like something that I should do. It would give a bigger picture of my faith, my family, and all those people who have helped get me back into the water again. But I'll tell you one thing: It wasn't easy.
It took a lot of people to help me put my thoughts on paper. First, there was Rick Bundschuh, my spiritual advisor and a pastor in the Kauai Christian Fellowship Church. There were certain things I just didn't want to talk about — certainly not to a stranger. So Rick volunteered to do the "translating." We would sit for hours and just talk, talk, talk. I'd pour my heart out, and he'd patiently listen, putting it all down on paper. Then came our writer, Sheryl Berk, who helped me organize and shape all these thoughts into fifteen chapters (who knew I had 200-plus pages in me?). When you're really close to something, it's hard to see things as they truly were or are. So Sheryl, along with my editor, Lauren McKenna, helped me connect the dots. They asked the toughest questions! Stuff that really made me squirm sometimes, but also, in the end, made me dig a little deeper and really be honest with myself and you. In the end, I'm really proud of what we've written here. I think it's truthful, and I hope it inspires and motivates people to tackle any obstacles in their lives. I hope it helps people find faith in God and in their own strength and ability. I hope it motivates someone going through a tough time right now to keep on fighting until they rise above it. You can and will get through it. I'm living proof that where there's a will, there's a way.
What I don't want is for people to pity me or think of me as a person who has had her life ruined. That's not how I see it. My mom is always saying, "If life hands you lemons, make lemonade." Which is a great outlook on life, if you can actually see beyond the lemons when you're up to your eyeballs in them! My strength came from my relationship with Christ and from the love and encouragement of my family and friends.
In a lot of ways I'm like any fourteen-year-old girl, and in a lot of ways, I'm not. If someone had told me that this is how my life would be, I would have never believed it. It would have seemed too bizarre to be true. Sometimes it still is. I often dream that I have both my arms again, and I wake up expecting the whole shark business to be a nightmare. But it's not. It's my reality now, and I've learned to accept it. I've moved on.
I don't pretend to have all the answers to why bad things happen to good people. But I do know that God knows all those answers, and sometimes He lets you know in this life, and sometimes He asks you to wait so that you can have a face-to-face talk about it. What I do know is that I want to use what happened to me as an opportunity to tell people that God is worthy of our trust, and to show them that you can go on and do wonderful things in spite of terrible events that happen. I don't think it does any good to sit around feeling sorry for yourself. I made myself a promise: I'm not going to wallow or walk around moaning, "Woe is me!"
One other thing you should know: this book really doesn't have an ending yet because I am still learning how to cope every day. I'm not talking about learning how to button my top with one hand. I'm talking about coping with being a celebrity, something I never imagined that I would have to deal with at the age of fourteen. Or coping with people's stares, either because they recognize me, or because they are not used to seeing a person with one arm running down the beach. Or coping with answering endless questions from the media and seeing my face in newspapers and magazines. I'm also learning to cope with the frustration of knowing that if I had both arms to paddle, I just might have done a little better in a surf contest that I have just been in.
I am excited about some of the opportunities to travel and surf all around the world that have come as a result of my attack and return to surfing. But most of all I am excited about what the future holds. Will I make it to the pro ranks in surfing? Will my lifelong friend and surf buddy, Alana, be paddling next to me in the years to come, as she is now and was during the attack? Will I be able to make a difference, in some small way, in people's lives by sharing my story?
What does God have in store for me? I really don't know, but I do know one thing for sure: The adventure is only started.
Excerpted from “Soul Surfer: A True Story of Faith, Family, and Fighting to Get Back on the Board,” by Bethany Hamilton, Sheryl Berk and Rick Bundschuh. Copyright © 2004 by Bethany Hamilton. Published by Simon & Schuster, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt can be used without permission of the publisher.