Shark takes surfer’s arm, not spirit


In this lesson, we will see how attitude triumphs over adversity.

Part I: Facing the Unexpected

Some people show true heroism by their actions; others are heroic simply by their attitude.  In this lesson, we will see how attitude triumphs over adversity.  This is the story of Bethany Hamilton, a young surfer, whose promising career was cut short by a shark attack.


Growing up in a family of surfers along the northern shores of Kauai, Hawaii, Bethany easily took to the sport at age eight.  By thirteen, after winning many tournaments, she had secured a corporate sponsor and was looking forward to turning pro.  Her plans unexpectedly changed on the morning of October 31, 2003.


After breakfast that morning, Bethany wished her father well.  He was scheduled to have knee surgery later that day, and both were looking forward to surfing together again.  While he prepared for the hospital, Bethany met up with her friends for a day of surfing at the Tunnels Beach reef.  After riding a few waves, Bethany took a break, floating on her board with her left hand dangling in the water.


Suddenly, a gray blur pulled Bethany into the water.  She held tightly to her board until the blur, a 14-foot tiger shark, let go.  Along with a large piece of her surfboard, the shark had bitten off most of Bethany’s left arm.  Her friends used a surfboard strap as a tourniquet to limit the bleeding.  Still conscious, Bethany remained surprisingly calm.  “I think I figured…if I panicked, then things wouldn’t go as good as if I were calm,” she said.

An ambulance drove her to the nearest hospital, where another patient awaiting surgery was moved from its only operating room.  The other patient was Bethany’s father.  “I just prayed to God that she’d survive,” he said.  “They had to roll me out of the upcoming surgery room and she replaced me.”

As Bethany continues to recover, people are still abuzz about her story.  Shark attacks like hers are not so uncommon, but her attitude and actions following the incident continue to make news.



Part II: Faith and Hope 

Through the eyes of faith Bethany is able to see her apparent misfortune as an opportunity to do something for God. “I look at everything that’s happened as part of God’s plan for my life,” she says, “and I look forward to new challenges.”  Faith is the theological virtue by which we have the “certainty of things hoped for”  (Hebrews 11:1).   At a time when some people are tempted to become bitter at life and their situation, Bethany refuses to be negative about her injury because she truly believes God is in charge of her life.


Not only has Bethany chosen a positive outlook, she has been busy sharing it with others.  Soon after surgery, she commented that she could now be a more effective instrument in spreading the message of Christ, which pleased her.  These are nice words to say, but Bethany quickly acted on them.  While still in the hospital, she visited fellow patients, including a blind man and a young girl suffering from a tumor, to offer them support and hope.  Hope is the virtue that keeps us from discouragement and sustains us in times of trial.  Hope is the “sure and steadfast anchor of the soul”  (Hebrews 6:19).  Bethany’s strong faith gives hope to everyone she meets.

Days after the attack, Bethany was already making plans to get back out on the waves. 


She made her plans into a reality this past week.  On Saturday, January 10th, 2004- just ten weeks after losing her arm- Bethany was back competing.  She finished 5th in her age group in the National Scholastic Surfing Association  (NSSA) meet. “It was definitely a good start,” she commented on her results.  The NSSA director offered to give her more time between heats or put her in a more favorable heat, but Bethany refused.  “I want to be treated like everybody else,” she said. 

 Perhaps, everybody else should strive to be a bit more like Bethany.


Tourniquet: A tight bandage used to stop the flow of blood to a large wound.

Faith:  Theological virtue by which we believe in God and believe all he has said and revealed to us

Theological virtue: Virtue infused by God at baptism into the souls of the faithful

Hope: Theological virtue by which we desire the kingdom of heaven and eternal life as our happiness

Bible Blurbs

“We know that all things work for good for those who love God.”  Romans 8:28

“For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom and the weakness of God is stronger is than human strength.”  Corinthians 1:25

“This illness is not to end in death, but is for the glory of God, that the Son of Man may be glorified through it.”  John 11:4

Similar Stories:


Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati 

was born April 6, 1901, to a wealthy family in Turin, Italy.  Athletic and handsome with an energetic personality, young Pier Giorgio was known as a practical joker.   

He organized a group of friends he called the “Sinister Ones,” and led them on grueling hikes through the Alps.  He would always get his friends to pray the rosary with him on these hikes, and Mass was a part of every outing: either before or during the climb.  He would set up ski weekends with his friends in the same way. “To live without faith… without a steady struggle for truth,” he would say, “that is not living.”

Pier also had a great love for the poor and often said, “God gives us health so that we may serve the sick.”  He used his allowance to buy food and medicine for families in need.  He would even give away his own bus fare, having to run home to make it in time for dinner, but he never revealed what he was doing for others.

When he was only 24 years old, he contracted polio and died within five days.  At his funeral over 1,000 mourners from all over Turin came to pay their respects to Pier Giorgio.  Pope John Paul II beatified him in 1989 and has often talked about him to young people.


St. Ignatius of Loyola was born in Spain at the beginning of the 16th century.  He was from a noble family and received a military education.  When he was still a young soldier he was badly wounded by a cannonball during a battle.  While he was recovering, only religious books were available to him.  As he read about Christ and the saints, he decided to follow God along a different path.

Ignatius went back to school to study theology and practice charity.  When he was given a message to relay to a fellow classmate that his parents could send no more money for tuition, Ignatius took it upon himself to take on a night job to pay his friend’s tuition rather than have his friend humiliated.  He was later ordained a priest.  In 1534, he founded the Society of Jesus, (Jesuits).    Ignatius founded many schools and inspired future saints and martyrs, including St. Francis Xavier.

Discussion Questions

What does Bethany’s reaction to losing her arm tell you about the way she lived her life before the shark attack?  How might Bethany have reacted had she not had her faith?  

Why do you think God would give Bethany a great talent for surfing if he knew she would not be able to pursue her talent to the fullest all her life?  (Remember  that God knows what is ultimately best for us and what will make us most happy.  See Bethany’s example of joy in being able to use the loss of her arm as a platform for bringing Christ to others.)   

Do you know of an example of someone who encountered an obstacle or tragedy, then used his or her overcoming it to make other’s lives better?  How did faith and hope play into their overcoming the obstacle?  Explain.  


One aspect of living out hope is looking at everything with a positive attitude, just like Bethany.  Identify one aspect in your school where you could do something to encourage positivity and come up with a class campaign to do it.  (Some examples: Make school spirit signs and promote an upcoming school event.  Have your campaign encourage participation in the sacraments: masses, communion services, and reconciliation opportunities.)  

Schedule a visit to a Nursing Home with the intention of making people happy, just like Bethany went to her fellow hospital patients to cheer them up.   

Send Bethany an email of support and encouragement. 

Catechism Tips

The following points elaborate on the virtues covered in the student text by presenting summaries of points from the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC).

Theological virtues (Faith, Hope, Love) are gifts from God received by each of us at baptism.  As such, we must freely respond to them in order to live in a relationship with the Holy Trinity and merit eternal life.

The human virtues are rooted in the theological virtues, which adapt man’s faculties for participation in the divine nature: for the theological virtues relate directly to God. They dispose Christians to live in a relationship with the Holy Trinity. They have the One and Triune God for their origin, motive, and object. (CCC 1812)

The theological virtues are the foundation of Christian moral activity; they animate it and give it its special character. They inform and give life to all the moral virtues. They are infused by God into the souls of the faithful to make them capable of acting as his children and of meriting eternal life. They are the pledge of the presence and action of the Holy Spirit in the faculties of the human being. There are three theological virtues: faith, hope, and charity.  (CCC 1813)

The Most Holy Trinity gives the baptized sanctifying grace, the grace of justification:

– enabling them to believe in God, to hope in him, and to love him through the theological virtues;
– giving them the power to live and act under the prompting of the Holy Spirit through the gifts of the Holy Spirit;
– allowing them to grow in goodness through the moral virtues.
Thus the whole organism of the Christian’s supernatural life has its roots in Baptism. 
(CCC 1266)

Faith is a personal act, our free response to God’s initiative, but not an isolated act.  In exercising faith, we are connected to God who gives it and to others with whom we share it.

Faith is a personal act – the free response of the human person to the initiative of God who reveals himself. But faith is not an isolated act. No one can believe alone, just as no one can live alone. You have not given yourself faith as you have not given yourself life. The believer has received faith from others and should hand it on to others. Our love for Jesus and for our neighbor impels us to speak to others about our faith. Each believer is thus a link in the great chain of believers. I cannot believe without being carried by the faith of others, and by my faith I help support others in the faith. (CCC 166).

Faith is the theological virtue by which we believe in God and believe all that he has said and revealed to us, and that Holy Church proposes for our belief, because he is truth itself. By faith “man freely commits his entire self to God.” For this reason the believer seeks to know and do God’s will. “The righteous shall live by faith.” Living faith “work[s] through charity.” (CCC 1814)

The Blessed Virgin Mary, by her perfect obedience to God’s will, is the best example of faith.

To obey (from the Latin ob-audire, to “hear or listen to”) in faith is to submit freely to the word that has been heard, because its truth is guaranteed by God, who is Truth itself. Abraham is the model of such obedience offered us by Sacred Scripture. The Virgin Mary is its most perfect embodiment.  (CCC 144).

In his preaching of the beatitudes, Christ offers us hope by lifting our sights to heaven, the new Promised Land.

Christian hope unfolds from the beginning of Jesus’ preaching in the proclamation of the beatitudes. The beatitudes raise our hope toward heaven as the new Promised Land; they trace the path that leads through the trials that await the disciples of Jesus. But through the merits of Jesus Christ and of his Passion, God keeps us in the “hope that does not disappoint.” Hope is the “sure and steadfast anchor of the soul . . . that enters . . . where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf.” Hope is also a weapon that protects us in the struggle of salvation: “Let us . . . put on the breastplate of faith and charity, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.” It affords us joy even under trial: “Rejoice in your hope, be patient in tribulation.” Hope is expressed and nourished in prayer, especially in the Our Father, the summary of everything that hope leads us to desire. (CCC 1820).

True hope in our lives can be endangered by two forms of presumption: either that our own capacities are sufficient for salvation, or that God will grant us salvation regardless of our merit.

There are two kinds of presumption. Either man presumes upon his own capacities, (hoping to be able to save himself without help from on high), or he presumes upon God’s almighty power or his mercy (hoping to obtain his forgiveness without conversion and glory without merit).  (CCC 2092)

Quotable Quotes

“Suffering seems to belong to man’s transcendence: it is one of those points in which man is in a certain sense “destined” to go beyond himself, and he is called to this in a mysterious way.”  John Paul II, Salvifici Doloris, par 2, On the Christian Meaning of Human Suffering

“Faith is to believe what you do not see; the reward of this faith is to see what you believe.” (Saint Augustine Concerning Faith of Things Not Seen, chapter 1)


“We can never have too much hope in God.  He gives in the measure we ask.” St. Therese of Lisueux, Story of a Soul: The Autobiography of St. Therese of Lisieux  

Related Websites

Bethany Hamilton Support Website…

Bethany Hamilton message board…

More about Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati…

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One response to “Shark takes surfer’s arm, not spirit”

  1. moequisha

    bethany yu is like a role model to me yu let me know that is can change my whol life around….thankyu

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