Trial By Fire
It was like any beautiful morning in Hawaii in 2003 when the two young teens paddled their surfboards into the waves off the shore of Kauai. Neither girl noticed the dark shadow in the water swimming towards them until the shark latched on to 13-year-old Bethany Hamilton’s left arm, severing it just below the shoulder. Friends quickly helped the girl to shore and wrapped a surfboard leash tourniquet around the remaining stump for the race to the hospital.
Just three weeks later, the young surfer was back on her board. She resumed competitive surfing, and won her first national title the next year.
While many people might have given up in the face of such a painful challenge, Bethany turned what could have been a career-ending tragedy into a powerful opportunity. The way she responded and continues to achieve is a model for how to triumph over a trial by fire.
The first thing she credits for her perseverance in the face of adversity is her deep faith in God and Christ. Having a strong spiritual belief that there is a benevolent divine power guiding and protecting us is key for navigating a crisis.
Secondly, Bethany felt she had a responsibility to continue to be a mentor and positive example. She was already a role model for other young surfers, particularly girls, before the accident. She realized that by pushing herself to continue to heal and excel, she was simultaneously encouraging countless others to rise above their own challenges. She created a foundation, Friends of Bethany, to assist and spiritually inspire other amputees and young people. Feeling that your life has meaning and purpose is a powerful driver for overcoming obstacles.
A third important factor in navigating challenging times is breaking the problem down into manageable goals. Facing the entirety of a tough situation could easily prove overwhelming. Focusing in on just one part, and then celebrating the completion of it, is an effective way to stay motivated and make steady progress. First healing the wound, getting familiar with her new core of gravity, then making slight modifications to her surfboard to accommodate her changed body were the steps that led Bethany directly and confidently to once again master the waves.
Ironically, serious setbacks frequently have a very positive outcome. When a person experiences catastrophic situations, from the death of a loved one to the loss of all material wealth to devastating physical impairment, more often than not, they will reinvent themselves and come back from the tragedy even stronger, more resourceful and happier. Psychologists have coined the phrase, “Post Traumatic Growth” to describe the phenomenon. This resiliency is not limited by a person’s age, gender, wealth or any other factor. Pressure can truly bring out the best in people.
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