How To Keep Going After Tragedy Hits

Bethany Hamilton

Bethany Hamilton on motivation, motherhood and her new doc ‘Unstoppable’

Bethany Hamilton’s world changed when she lost her arm in a shark attack at the age of 13. But her miraculous journey to becoming an uber-successful professional surfer inspired the movie, Soul Surfer, and most recently, a documentary, Unstoppable, released in October. Bethany took some time away from the waves to chat about how she managed to get back on her board after the attack, motherhood, and her new projects.

Katie Couric: First things first, what sparked your lifelong love of surfing and what is it about this sport that continues to speak to you?

Bethany Hamilton: I guess the real beauty of being in the ocean and riding waves. My whole family surfs too, so it was a place where we all found camaraderie and time together. Plus, the challenge and the thrill of riding waves — It’s really like nothing else.

As a young teen, you asked whether you thought you’d surf again and you famously replied, “I think? I know.” So what inspires you to get back on that board?

When I was still in the hospital, I was visited by my friend Mike, who had lost his leg to a shark. And he had learned how to surf with one leg. The moment I heard that was the light bulb of inspiration for me. So I had already set my hopes and sights on learning how to surf with one arm, and once I got up on my first wave, there was no turning back.

And “Unstoppable” traces your incredible career. You overcame difficult trauma, and you’ve won countless competitions and titles across the world. When you look back at all you’ve accomplished, does it ever feel surreal?

It definitely feels like that a lot. I think the surfing aspect feels very natural, but the other things I’ve done, like writing books, and making Soul Surfer and Unstoppable — feel surreal. And I’ve just created an online course to help people live their unstoppable lives. Also, the moments when I meet young kids who are facing tremendous tragedies or hard times, hearing that they’ve found hope in my story to help them in their own journey, is surreal.

And when you speak with young people like you just mentioned, what advice do you give them?

I’m not always having a straight-forward conversation with them about overcoming, but more of just spending time with them. They know my story and them being able to meet me is really special and impactful. And if they ask me, I’ll give them advice. I’ll remind them, ‘Hey, you can do more than you know,’ and encourage them to try and just stay positive through the really challenging times.

And you’re now a mother of two. So what have been some of the most challenging aspects of motherhood and most surprising?

I think being there for them and being present, and just being a part of their lives, is the first thing I can give to them. I definitely have questioned the way I communicate and push myself to stay on my toes with how I do things around them. I think parenting makes you a better human being, which makes for a better world. I think, my being a professional athlete, you definitely have to be consistent, and I think as a parent, consistency is so key. So it’s cool how some aspects of my sport carry over into parenthood and feel like an advantage. I’m also always open to coaching, so I’m always taking advice or ideas from other parents on how I can better in my own parenting role.

Your kids are still quite young. Have they started surfing yet?

They both love the ocean and water! My four-year-old surfs and catches his own waves now. He stands up and rides and it’s super fun. He definitely has the surf bug, so it’s exciting for me.

And is the beach an important place for you and your family?

Oh, for sure. I mean, naturally being in Hawaii, why wouldn’t you spend time at the beach? The outdoors, in general, is such a great learning environment for children. So yeah, anywhere outside, the jungle, the park. All these different environments are so healthy for us as a family and for the kids to grow and learn.

What’s next for you?

It feels like such a momentous time in my life with Unstoppable being out now. I’ve actually just finished that online course, which has been a huge passion project of mine because, I’ve been in this place of being a role model, but now I’m actually equipping people with the advice and tools that I’ve learned during my own journey. I’m able to share the things that have made me strong and that have made me an overcomer and have really equipped me to live an unstoppable life. So now I’ve put that all into an online course and I just launched it this fall and it’s really exciting to actually be doing more. I have a love/hate relationship with social media because sometimes I think it’s such a shallow place. I wanted to have a place where I could go deeper, and be a positive influence in other people’s lives that I can’t necessarily hang out with all day long.

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