Surfer Girl Makes Comeback After Shark Attack

Most observers doubted teenage surfing prodigy Bethany Hamilton would ever be able to surf competitively again after she lost her left arm -- and nearly her life -- in a vicious shark attack off the coast of Hawaii in October 2003.

But Hamilton has refused to let her story become a tragedy. She has since returned to surfing, and has proven she can still compete with the best in her sport. Her courage and positive attitude has also earned her numerous awards and product endorsements -- as well as widespread acclaim and admiration.

"I get tons of letters -- stories of people that were going through a hard time and then they saw that I didn't give up on my dreams," she told "Primetime Live" co-anchor Chris Cuomo. "I kept surfing -- it helped them out a lot and that just shows that good can come out of like bad stuff like this."

Hamilton won fifth place at the National Surfing Championships in 2004, and took first place in the Open Women's division at the first stop on the Hawaii National Scholastic Surfing Association circuit.

Last October, Hamilton released a biography titled "Soul Surfer." A movie based on the book starts filming this year. She won the 2004 ESPY Award from ESPN for Best Comeback Athlete, and Janet Jackson presented her with a special Courage Award at the 2004 Teen Choice Awards.

Hamilton is even branching out into perfumes. She just launched two fragrances -- "Stoked" for girls, and "Wired" for boys.

Taking Baby Steps

Hamilton's recovery was not easy. She was already a teen surfing star when a huge shark attacked her as she was lying on her surfboard in the calm waters off the North Shore of Kauai. The creature took a 16-inch bite out of her board and Hamilton nearly died from blood loss. She was just 13 years old at the time.

She says when she first returned to surfing, she felt like she was learning the sport all over again, "just learning with one arm, and adapting to not having two there."

"Before ... I was really strong at paddling ... Since this happened, I only have one arm and my paddling's definitely slowed down," she said, likening surfing with one arm to "a one-arm push-up."

It was a slow process. "Every time I would go out there, I would learn something new ... I kept practicing just on smaller waves, just standing up and figuring how to catch it and all that and each time I felt better and better about my surfing," she said.

All along though, she has been at ease with her physical disability. She had a life-like prosthetic arm custom made for her; but she almost never uses it.

"Living in Kauai, everybody knows who I am and it's not really gonna make me more confident having a real arm and a fake arm," she said.

"It doesn't even really help me. It's not that I don't like it, but it doesn't really come in handy, because living in Hawaii I'm running around and it's not like it's waterproof. And it doesn't help me paddle any faster."

Mental Strength

Hamilton, now 15 years old, not only had to overcome physical obstacles, but psychological ones too. "You never know" if it could happen again, she said.

She said she deals with her fears by singing a song or praying. "Or [I] just try to ignore it and, you know like, it's always in my mind, and it always will be, but I gotta keep my mind on having fun, and just surfing."

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