Friend and youth leader of pro athlete Bethany Hamilton addresses students
The club level of Williams Stadium was filled to capacity Thursday, April 4 as the Psychology Department hosted Sarah Hill, a motivational speaker and the youth leader of shark attack survivor Bethany Hamilton, whose experiences were re-enacted in the feature film “Soul Surfer.”
Addressing a crowd of more than 500 students, Hill spoke about her own traumatic experiences that brought her closer to Christ and motivated her to change lives.
According to Hill, she had her life mapped out. She had a scholarship to play water polo at California State University in Long Beach, but a traumatic surfing accident during her senior year of high school changed her plans.
“My friends and I went out for one last surfing ‘hoorah,’ and I ended up breaking my neck and back and was one-sixteenth of an inch away from paralysis,” Hill said. “Everything I had planned for my life came to a screeching halt. It was definitely a hard time in my life.”
After the accident, Hill decided to begin Kauai Child, a ministry focusing on the junior high and high school students on the island of Kauai, a part of the Hawaiian islands.
“I hold Bible studies, small groups, camps and mission trips that help kids stay active and busy, rather than find trouble,” Hill said. “My goal with them is to share the love of Christ through outreach and ministry.”
According to Hill, she met Hamilton through one of her youth events after moving from San Diego to Kauai. From there, a relationship grew, and Hill became Hamilton’s mentor and close friend.
In 2010, Hollywood producers approached the Hamilton family in hopes of portraying the surfer’s life from her early surfing days through the shark attack and continuing into her career. According to Hill, the Hamilton family enlisted her help with the script and other essential parts of the production process.
“We were on set in Oahu every day, which was key because the script changed a lot, and we had to stay on top of it,” Hill said. “We wanted to portray Bethany’s story correctly, with Christ at the center of it, because he was the center of her life, and still is.”
Producers chose former American Idol turned country music star Carrie Underwood to portray Hill’s character as Hamilton’s youth leader in the film “Soul Surfer,” also starring Dennis Quaid, Helen Hunt and AnnaSophia Robb.
The successful film brought in an estimated $44 million, according to the International Movie Database website.
Thursday’s event with the Psychology Department was Hill’s first visit to Liberty.
“I love Liberty — the staff have been amazing, and the school is gorgeous,” Hill said.
Hill focused her message, “Surviving Trauma,” on 1 Kings 18-19 and referred to the story of Elijah and his mountaintop experience.
“The moment you step out of a ‘mountaintop experience,’ the enemy wants to attack you, and I’ve had a lot of students that have gone through times like these that shake the foundation of their faith,” Hill said. “Hopefully, my talk will prepare people to face tough situations with confidence, knowing that it will refine their faith.”
For those students considering ministry, Hill encourages them to not be afraid to step out.
“When God’s calling us into ministry and the mission field — whether that be your workplace or somewhere else — just step out of your comfort zone and have faith in God’s plan for your life,” Hill said. “God will open doors that you never fathomed. Don’t ever hold yourself back from doing what God’s calling you to do.”
Hill is currently working on a book based on her past experiences and her role as a motivational speaker.
For more information about Hill and her ministry, visit sarahrachelhill.com.