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Soul Surfer: Bethany Hamilton on Health, Happiness, and Inspiration

The surfing champ tells WebMD about her healthy lifestyle, her dreams, and what it's like seeing her story portrayed on the big screen.
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By Julia Dahl
WebMD Magazine - Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Bethany Hamilton started competing at surfing events when she was just 8 years old. After a string of impressive wins, she lost her arm when she was attacked by a 14-foot tiger shark in 2003. She was only 13. A less courageous young woman might have put her surf board away for good. But two weeks later Hamilton hit the water again and has gone on to not only win national surfing competitions but become a successful pro surfboarder. We talked with Hamilton just before the movie based on her story, Soul Surfer, came out and she told us about her recovery from the shark attack, her concerns about childhood obesity, and what she wants young people to know about following dreams despite adversity. Plus she talks about her healthy diet -- and yes, it's really healthy!

It's been more than seven years since you were attacked by a shark while surfing in your native Hawaii as a 13-year-old. Despite losing your arm, you've gone on to a career as a professional surfer, competing all over the world. Your autobiography recently hit the big screen in the movie Soul Surfer, where you're played by AnnaSophia Robb, and which also stars Dennis Quaid and Helen Hunt. Did you immediately know you had to get back to surfing, or did you worry you might have ridden your last wave?

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At first, my family and I were just grateful that I was even alive. It was kind of a miracle because I lost more than 60% of my blood. But I knew I wanted to try surfing again. I had a really good doctor and he encouraged me by saying, "There's a long list of things you'll be able to do, and very short list of things you won't be able to do." And it's true -- there really aren't many things I can't do. 

What was it like when you got back in the water?

I went out for the first time about two weeks after I got out of the hospital. Once I got up on the board and was riding, it came back naturally. It just took time and creativity to figure out how to paddle out with only one arm. 

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