Hamilton overcomes

‘Soul Surfer’ inspires students to put faith in God during difficult situations

Overcoming obstacles was the theme of Convocation Wednesday, Oct. 16, as students heard from professional surfer and shark attack survivor Bethany

Motivate — Hamilton spoke about her faith and family. Photo credit: Ruth Bibby

Motivate — Hamilton spoke about her faith and family. Photo credit: Ruth Bibby

Hamilton, who lost her arm to a 14-foot tiger shark at the age of 13, is now a professional athlete. In addition to conquering national and world championships, Hamilton is also an author, motivational speaker and the inspiration behind the 2011 major motion picture “Soul Surfer.”

According to Jerry Falwell, Jr., president of Liberty University, Hamilton has inspired an entire generation and was influential in pushing Liberty toward film production.

“(‘Soul Surfer’) was one of the things that inspired us to start the School of Cinematic Arts here,” Falwell said. “It showed us that Christian films could be done in high quality.”

Hamilton shared her personal testimony with students, describing how the near-death experience strengthened her faith and walk with Christ.

“It was crazy that this happened to me — a shark attacked me and took my arm,” Hamilton said. “I didn’t know what God had in store for me. One day, I’m doing everything I hoped. The next day, life has come to a halt. Thankfully, God had an incredible plan and journey for me.”

Though Hamilton gave her life to Christ at the age of five, she told students that the journey after her attack was often plagued with doubt.

“I remember thinking, ‘What am I going to do?’” Hamilton said. “But as I grew up with one arm and re-learned how to surf, God taught me how he can take hard times and turn them into something beautiful. He can do that for each and every one of you. He can take what you’ve been through and use your story.”

According to Hamilton, making a difference in even one person’s life is worth everything.

“I look back on losing my arm, and I would never take back anything that I’ve been through,” Hamilton said. “I wouldn’t choose to keep my arm, because I know that God allowed me to go through something like this to be able to share the message of hope in him.”

Through her platform of professional sport, Hamilton has since shared around the world the message of overcoming obstacles with Christ.

“I’ve gone to places that I never would have known before,” Hamilton said, recounting her time spent in a sea gypsy village in Thailand after the tsunami of 2004. “It was really awesome to see the light that was brought to them and to be able to remind them that God loves them, and he wants them to overcome.”

Hamilton reminded students that although obstacles may sometimes block our vision, God is always working in the midst of our trials and difficult circumstances.
“I look back now, and I’m just in awe of how God can take a young girl like me from a tiny island in Hawaii and share my story all over the world to reach so many people,” Hamilton said.

She encouraged the crowd to live passionately in all areas of life.

“I love that God can take the passions that he gives us,” Hamilton said. “He took my surfing, even after losing my arm, and was able to share a story of hope with so many people. If you choose to live your life for God, he will take your passions and turn them into even more incredible passions and adventures.”

Despite trials and overwhelming circumstances, Hamilton advocated that obstacles can teach us to live for a greater purpose.

“Allow him to drive you in your passions. Work at your passions with all your heart as doing it for the Lord. Doing it for the Lord brings us to this reason to live beyond ourselves. Even if we just reach one person through our obstacles and through our trials — it’s just as beautiful if we reach just one versus a million.”

After speaking to the crowd in morning Convocation, Hamilton conducted a question and answer session hosted by the Department of Psychology. During this time, Hamilton shared in-depth stories of her faith and her determination to pursue her goal as a professional surfer.

Student questions varied from topics of seriousness — such as Hamilton’s life after the accident, her first time back in the water and her struggle of handling fame — to the more lighthearted subjects of her engagement and marriage, the filming of “Soul Surfer” and her personal choice for victor of this year’s Rip Curl Pro ASP World Tour.

Hamilton, who was later joined by her husband on stage, offered advice for students facing times of discouragement, laughed along to the reenactment of her engagement and shared her desire to bring God glory in everything.

“I feel honored to be a role model,” Hamilton said. “The cool thing is I’m just like you. I have my struggles and my weaknesses and areas that I can improve on. We all have that. And we can all ask God for help in those areas and work on them.”

With no intention of stopping, Hamilton said she plans to continue as a professional surfer and motivational speaker, using the ocean as her testimony from the past and platform for the future.

“After losing my arm, I got up on my third wave and rode it all the way to the beach,” Hamilton said. “I had tears of joy and was stoked to be back where I loved. The ocean is my hiding place. It’s somewhere that God’s given me. I look out, and it’s just absolutely beautiful, so vast and huge. I love the ocean.”

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