In 2003, at age 13, Hamilton was attacked by a 14-foot tiger shark while surfing off the north shore of Kauai, Hawaii. The teen lost more than 60% of her blood and her left arm.
Hundreds of people of all ages, but mostly teens, gathered recently at Super Franks in Pleasanton to hear how Hamilton overcame the loss of her arm and tell the story of how she triumphed over tragedy in a Teen Esteem program.
Hamilton spoke little of the shark attack, focusing rather on her struggle to overcome such a setback. The Christian athlete said that, through the loss of her left arm, God was giving her the opportunity to be more than just a surfer and have a bigger impact in the world.
"I liked that she talked about her faith and how she got back into the water even though it was a big risk," said Ashlynn Brady, a sixth grader in the audience. "Even if you're afraid to do something, you have to push yourself because God can help you through it."
She also discussed the more typical yet equally damaging problems that her friends faced as teens, such as depression, suicidal thoughts and the pressure to fit in.
"I think what (Bethany) was saying about addressing hard issues like suicide and self-harm and things that are really destructive needs to brought out into the light," said parent Shanna Boomershine.
A portion of the presentation was an interview in which Hamilton talked about her role models, finding one's purpose, her faith and her family. Hamilton listed her parents among her role models and said they were encouraging, even homeschooling their daughter so she could devote more time to surfing.
The event was organized by Teen Esteem, a Danville-based nonprofit that aims to educate and empower teens to make healthy choices and avoid dangerous activities.
"I think Teen Esteem brings kids a better awareness of that and lets them know that if they or their friends are hurting they have resources. They have people they can go to; they have an organization that says, 'We're here, and we can help you.'"
Before Hamilton's speech, several adult audience members made donations to fund Teen Esteem assemblies at local schools. An auction was also held, with items such as one of Hamilton's signed rash guards going for $1,200.
To learn more about Teen Esteem, visit www.teenesteem.com.