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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, November 21, 2003

Bethany only looking ahead

 •  3 interviews air on TV today

By Jan TenBruggencate
Advertiser Kaua'i Bureau

Bethany Hamilton said she doesn't remember seeing the tiger shark that bit off her left arm. "All I saw was, like, a big gray blur," she said.

Associated Press

KILAUEA, Kaua'i — Three weeks after a "gray blur" bit off her left arm, Bethany Hamilton is putting her life back together.

The stitches covering the wound caused by the 14-foot tiger shark were to come out yesterday afternoon, and she was eager for her doctor's permission to get back in the water. Bethany is still listed among the top-ranked women surfers, and she insists that she'll be back on the waves soon.

The 13-year-old Princeville girl woke up at 5 a.m. on Halloween morning, eager to surf the reef at Tunnels because the waves had been good nearby the night before. She had cereal for breakfast before her mother drove her to the beach. Her dad was going into the hospital for knee surgery.

Bethany paddled out with her best friend, Alana Blanchard, and Alana's brother, Byron, and father, Holt.

They surfed for about a half-hour and she caught maybe 10 waves before she took a rest, lying on her surfboard parallel to shore, her right hand holding the board, her left dangling in the water.

"We never saw it, or anything, before it bit. It shook me. It lasted about three seconds long. All I saw was, like, a gray blur.

"It let go and I just looked at the red blood in the water."

Holt Blanchard and his son pushed Bethany onto a small wave, then they dragged her in the water, one or the other of them paddling while she held on to their board or their shorts with her remaining hand. When they got into an area shallow enough to stand, the elder Blanchard wrapped his rashguard around her arm. As they reached shore, he used a surfboard leash as a tourniquet.

Until that moment, Bethany had been conscious.

"I was talking. I was praying. I don't know the exact words. I just asked for help," she said.

She passed out as she came ashore, but came to again quickly.

Bethany, who has had numerous requests for media appearances since the shark attack, talks during a session with the Associated Press on Wednesday.

Associated Press

"I woke up and they had a lot of towels on me. I was thinking that the ambulance should hurry up," she said.

She recalls details uncannily, like firefighters asking about the kind of cars her parents drove, like her asking ambulance attendants where they were during the 30-mile ride to the hospital.

And she remembers her mother, trying to keep up with the ambulance to follow her daughter to the hospital and being pulled over by a police officer for speeding. Ambulance attendants radioed the police to explain the situation and her mother was free to go.

At Wilcox Memorial Hospital, Tom Hamilton was hauled out of the operating room to make room for his daughter. He already had been sedated for his scheduled knee operation, and was not able to see Bethany before she underwent surgery.

He got the knee surgery later, and yesterday afternoon, he and Bethany were to have their respective stitches out at the same time.

Within hours of the shark's bite, her story became an international sensation. The family was barraged by media and well-wishers. Friends who saw that they were too fragile to handle the stress stepped up and began trying to manage the situation.

Part-time Kaua'i resident Roy Hofstetter, a Los Angeles entertainment agent, was asked to help handle the media. He is making arrangements for Bethany to be paid for many of her appearances to help secure her future. Although the family has medical insurance, there will be additional uncovered medical costs, including the development of artificial limbs that will have to be replaced as Bethany grows.

Bethany seems to handle the turmoil with aplomb. She credits church and kin for her personal strength and resilience.

"Strong faith and strong family helps me, does it for me," said Bethany, whose family attends North Shore Christian Church.

She seems hesitant to go further, but it's just that she's said it all so many times before. She looks at her dad.

"I wish we had recorded my answers, so we could just play them back," she said.

To some extent, she has been insulated, spending most of her time since the injury with family and a few close girlfriends, including best friend Alana, and that feels normal. Yet, undeniably, life is different.

Bethany and her dad, Tom Hamilton, who had knee surgery, await the opportunity to surf together again.

Jan Tenbruggencate • The Honolulu Advertiser

"Everything's changed. If you just think about it, there's all these people saying, 'How are you feeling?' I just wish I could say, 'I'm fine. You don't have to ask.' But then, I guess I'd ask, too."

She looks fine. Surfer's blond hair frames lively eyes and a ready smile. A gold and diamond pendant around her neck is in the shape of a surfboard with a bite taken out of it — looking much like her board did after the attack. It was a gift from a friend who prefers to remain anonymous, she said.

Bethany's right hand is fidgety during the interview, toying with a lacquered chopstick that she uses to arrange her hair. At her left shoulder is a mound of flesh where an arm used to be, a semicircle of scar tissue closing the wound. Bethany appears comfortable with herself, and makes no attempt to shield the injury from view.

This slim, strong teenager doesn't appear to dwell too much on the loss of her arm. It's done, and she said she's ready to move on.

"Consciously or unconsciously, she's doing a lot of stuff on her own," Tom Hamilton said.

"I saw her sitting on the floor, cutting oranges and tangerines, using her feet to hold them."

Bethany is hoping to salvage her semester at school, but it will take hard work. She has been recovering for three weeks, and a couple of weeks of Mainland visits are scheduled in December for national media appearances. The family is talking to her teachers at her online charter school, the Myron B. Thompson Academy, and they're working on bringing her up to speed.

Once she and her dad get their doctor's approval to return to the water, Tom Hamilton said, "we'll probably do some workouts together in the local pool."

When they're ready, it's on to the surf — something they haven't been able to do together for several months because of Tom's bad knee.

"We look forward to surfing together," Tom Hamilton said.

Bethany has a specific goal when she paddles back into the ocean.

"When I first go surfing, I want to make sure I catch the first wave myself. Then, they can help me," she said.

Reach Jan TenBruggencate at jant@honoluluadvertiser.com or (808) 245-3074.