SUVA: One-armed American surfer Bethany Hamilton sealed third place in the Fiji Women’s Pro yesterday after beating some of the world’s best to make the semi-finals. Hamilton, whose left arm was bitten off in a shark attack in 2003, entered the event at Tavarua as a wildcard rated little chance of making an impact. But the 26-year-old from Hawaii reached the final four with an incredible giant-killing run.
She defeated Australia’s world number one Tyler Wright in the second round, then beat six-time world champion Stephanie Gilmore in the third. Another Aussie, the highly rated Nikki Van Dijk, succumbed in the quarter-finals before Hamilton finally fell to the competition’s eventual winner, France’s Johanne Defay, in the semis. “Beyond stoked to finish 3rd… as the wildcard! LOVED competing & looking forward to more adventures,” she tweeted after the event.
It is the sixth time Hamilton, who had a child last year, has competed on the elite tour, with her previous best a ninth place in 2010. But the simple fact she is competing has already inspired a Hollywood movie, 2011’s “Soul Surfer” featuring Dennis Quaid and Helen Hunt. Hamilton was a promising junior aged 13 when a huge tiger shark mauled her, losing 60 percent of her blood after it ripped off her arm. But she refused to give up her dream of becoming a pro surfer and was back on a board less than a month after the near-fatal attack.
She embarked on intensive physical therapy and strengthening exercises to adjust her balance and movements to compensate for the missing arm. The only concession made to her handicap is a handle on the surfboard, which allows her to duckdive under approaching waves when she paddles out. She spoke after making the quarter-finals in Fiji about what it meant for her to compete among the best. “I know I’m in a unique position to hopefully encourage young girls… to chase their dreams,” she said. “Even after losing my arm I’m still doing everything I hoped I could do. I’m a reminder for young girls that you can do it if you set your mind to it.”— AFP