An interview with Bethany Hamilton

Use the discussion questions at the end of this article for a group conversation after you see the movie Soul Surfer.
Photo by Noah Hamilton. Used by permission.
It was in 2003, only weeks after Bethany Hamilton and her mom, Cheri (portrayed by Helen Hunt in the film), prayed for God to reveal His purpose for Bethany’s life, that the young surfing champion lost her arm in the shark attack. Prayer sustained her against the odds, and she found strength in her Christian faith, her family, and her church. In less than a month, she was back in the water and on the path to return to championship form.

”It was hard at first; I think that was a natural feeling”, said Noah Hamilton, Bethany’s oldest brother. “And there was definitely some questioning: ‘God, why Bethany, she had such an amazing future, why?’ But in the hospital, when we saw that joy of the Lord in Bethany, with no self pity and grateful to be alive, that really pulled me out of despair.

And it affected others the same way. Mail began to pour into the Hamilton’s house, letters of encouragement and prayer from thousands of people worldwide. Without knowing it at first, Bethany had also become their encourager. Many of those who wrote began by telling of a seemingly insurmountable circumstance, but after hearing Bethany’s story, they found renewed hope and courage to face it head on.

Faith & Fitness Magazine: How has this life experience taught you patience?
Photo by Tim McKenna. Used by permission.
Soul Surfer Bethany Hamilton: Patience is not exactly one of my virtues. Whenever I’m losing patience, I remind myself that patience IS a virtue, and one of my favorite Bible verses says, “But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete lacking nothing.” Sometimes I’ll stretch when I’m losing patience and it kills time.

FF: The unexpected and unplanned often causes people to give up in life and quit. Describe your thoughts of quitting and share how you decided to persevere.
Photo by Tim McKenna. Used by permission.
BH: When the shark attack first occurred I was focused on getting better and healing. I knew that once I was able to go back in the ocean I wanted to try to surf again. I wasn’t sure of myself but I at least tried and was able to do it. Eventually I just got better and better surfing with one arm. I just kind of set my mind to compete and continue in the same route I intended before the attack. I love surfing so much. I didn’t want to quit. In my movie SOUL SURFER, it shows the struggles that my family and I went through.

FF: Physical challenges are a main reason why people don't exercise or quit exercising. Share some details on how you overcame your physical challenges and what modifications you have made to train and build physical strength.
BH: Adjusting to life with one arm was challenging but I think being young, I just adapted really well to it. I was creative in figuring out how to do things. Like for example – I kick a lot when paddling out surfing. So instead of just one arm to paddle, I’m kicking as well. And my dad put a handle on my surfboard to help me duck dive, which means to push the board and you underneath the wave, which you’ll see in the movie. Also, I constantly work to keep my body in balance. I’m always working with a physical therapist/trainer who gives me stuff to do every day: stretches, exercise, posture alignment, stuff to keep my spine in proper alignment, core strength and balancing. It is a matter of keeping balanced fitness throughout the whole body. Not just one thing but a large variety of exercises and such. I have a health and fitness page on my website. I’m a big fan of living healthy. I eat an organic, healthy diet. For example for breakfast, I enjoy a Sambazon acaii kale smoothie.

FF: What similarities do you see between physical and spiritual determination? How have your physical circumstances transformed your spiritual journey?
Photo by Tim McKenna. Used by permission.
BH: The Bible says, “And whatever you do, do it heartily as to the Lord and not to man.” I look at this verse and think – in whatever you’re doing – whether it be surfing or running or trusting in God, in how you treat other people – or whatever your work is, we’re supposed to do it wholeheartedly for the God. So that’s my goal no matter what I’m doing – whether physical or spiritual. As far as how my spiritual journey has transformed: I would say that as a result of learning to trust God through the difficulties in my every day, my faith has grown stronger for sure. We need to trust Him and obey Him.

Hollywood’s “A List” headlines a feature film version of Bethany Hamilton’s life-changing story of faith and courage in SOUL SURFER, a major motion picture hitting theaters nationwide April 8. SOUL SURFER brings to the screen Bethany’s thrilling, true story of losing an arm to a tiger shark attack and, with her faith, determination, and family support, returning to champion-level surfing.

SOUL SURFER, rated PG, offers something for every audience member: stunning shots of competitive surfing, touching moments of faith from a family facing tragedy, and inspiring scenes of Bethany learning that God can use her circumstances to help others.

Excitement for the project drew Hollywood’s top talent. SOUL SURFER features an all-star cast, including AnnaSophia Robb and Helen Hunt, with Carrie Underwood in her film debut, and Dennis Quaid. Quaid, who had recently faced his own near tragedy with his infant twins, joined the project after hearing Bethany tell her story on a national morning television show.

Behind-the-camera, veteran director Sean McNamara has 15 feature films to his credit, including extensive experience working with young actors including Shia LaBeouf and Hilary Duff. SOUL SURFER is based on the book by Bethany Hamilton, Sheryl Berk and Rick Bundschuh. The screen story is by Sean McNamara & Deborah Schwartz & Douglas Schwartz & Michael Berk and Matt R. Allen & Caleb Wilson & Brad Gann. The screenplay is by Sean McNamara & Deborah Schwartz & Douglas Schwartz & Michael Berk.

Photo by Noah Hamilton. Used by permission.

“We never know what life brings,” Bethany recently said. “Maybe there are some rough times for you now or in the future. I think that if you seek God first and focus on Him, you’ll be able to endure those struggles and hardships.”

Bethany’s story has touched literally millions of people worldwide. In addition to reaching out through letters and personal appearances, Bethany has told her story to national and international audiences in numerous television interviews.

SOUL SURFER the movie will take this story of faith and of finding God’s purpose through even the most challenging circumstances to a wider audience still.

[Print this article and distribute copies for the members of your family or group to read BEFORE viewing the movie. Afterwards use the following questions for a group discussion.]
1. In the movie after her recovery, when Bethany returns to the water to surf her father encourages her to be patient. How does this scene in the movie inspire you? In what ways do you find it difficult to be patient? Describe a time in your life that required patience and share how it led to you overcoming a challenge or obstacle.
2. After her accident Bethany decided to travel with her youth group and serve others. How do you feel that changed her circumstances and outlook in life? She used her God-given talent to bring the love and hope of Christ to a young child and ultimately a larger group. What gift(s) has God given you and how have you (or could you) used that to help others? Discuss how focusing on others shapes who you are and fulfills God’s purpose.
3. Bethany’s story underscores the strength of “family”. In what ways do you feel God’s design of the family unit is critical for individuals and communities? What role has your family played in your life? How can a larger group of friends come together as a family and support each other?

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