In an Instant

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By Chris Cullen

There seems not to be an inspirational story absent of struggle. The Irish have a saying that one should not ask for an easy life, but for strength of character. Greatness or the realization of a dream will always, always, come at a price. Often greatness is at the expense of exhaustive time and energy. Athletes devote every thought and effort toward physical optimization, instructors give to students they’ve only just met, mountain climbers risk everything when their climbing partner is in peril, and parents work and sacrifice to make a better life for their children.

We pay with time, the passing of youth, lines on our face, and the loss of loved ones. Nothing is free. Nothing good comes easily. Everything of purpose is earned.

What if you were to experience a tragedy?

How would you respond?

Would the tragedy pervade all elements of existence or drive you to work harder to achieve?

If you keep falling, will you get back up?

Do you want it bad enough?

What if, a part of you, was taken?

What if you were breathing in the salty ocean air, under sunlight of paradise, laying on your surfboard, smiling, and seconds later, you were fighting for your life?

In her youth, Bethany Hamilton was like any other girl, in most ways. As a resident of Hawaii, along with influence of friends and family, she gained a love of surfing. Hamilton was very talented, a bit better than the other surfers. Her Father spoke of her surfing ability, “you can’t really train someone to be like that. Some people have it and some people don’t. Bethany was one of the people that had ‘it’ .”

At 13 years of age, on October 31st in 2003, Hamilton and a group of surfers paddled out 20 minutes off shore to surf the great waves of Hawaii. Among sunshine, and laughing with friends, Hamilton admired the animation of sea life viewable through the crystal-clear water.

As Hamilton tells her story, “It happened so fast. There wasn’t much time to think. There was a nudge on my board and right away I knew what was happening. I looked over and the shark had taken my arm.”

In the blink of an eye, Hamilton was attacked and her life was changed. She was bleeding out into the ocean. Far from shore and any possibility of medical help. According to her friend’s father, present at the time, “She called out saying that she was attacked by a shark. We didn’t think she was going to make it.”

By the time the group and Hamilton reached the shore, she was in shock and it is estimated that during the ordeal, she experienced a sixty percent blood loss. A doctor staying at a nearby hotel performed the surgery to stop her blood loss and ultimately save her life.

The fear of facing death under such circumstances may be difficult to comprehend, let alone returning to the surf, and facing any fear associated with the depth of the ocean and its vast dangers. One month after her near fatal accident, she began the process of learning to surf with one arm. She was determined and did not give up.

Only seventy days after the accident, Hamilton entered a competitive surf competition. The rest is history and history in the making. Hamilton spent time as a professional surfer, winning many competitions. She went on to author a book about her experience. Her story is one of tragedy and triumph. Her love of surfing would not allow any fear to keep her away.

Thankfully, Hamilton survived her attack. She is a daughter, and sister, and later has become a wife and mother. Her story tells us that, even though we can have life changing and unalterable setbacks, perseverance and determination will always win out when we want to achieve or pursue a passion.

In an instant, your whole life can change. In an instant, you can be thrust into and towards your destiny of becoming everything you dreamed of. It happened to Hamilton.

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