Bethany Hamilton and Jeff Kozlowski Talk Overcoming Adversity With a Smile

When you hear the name Bethany Hamilton, one word comes to mind – strength.  In 2003, 13-year-old Bethany was enjoying a morning surf Kauai – a Hawaiian island – with her best friend Alana and Alana’s brother and father, something they did together often.  The water surrounding them was calm and littered with turtles so Bethany was relaxing on her board with her left arm dangling off, waiting for the surf to pick up when moments later, her entire life was changed forever.

I think a shark just attacked me

A 14-foot tiger shark attacked Bethany, severing her arm and taking a chunk out of her board before swimming away, and Bethany barely felt a thing.  If it hadn’t been for the pressure she felt and the water turning blood red around her, she would have had no inkling that she’d just been attacked at all.  Once the pieces came together, she tried – calmly – to swim to her best friend where she was able to speak those incomprehensible 7 words.

Bethany was rushed to the emergency room and upon her arrival, she’d lost 60% of her blood volume and was in hypovolemic shock, under miraculous circumstances, she was taken into an operating room, saved, and released a week later.

In a situation such as this, it would have come as no surprise to most that she would walk away from the water, from her solace on a surfboard and try to find passion and peace somewhere else.  Bethany, however, was determined not to let her shark attack determine the path her life would take – instead, she used her faith and took a chance most people wouldn’t have expected a shark attack survivor to take and within two months, Bethany was back in the ocean – ready to take on the surf.

We caught up with Bethany more than 10 years after her attack, return to surfing, and journey into adulthood to talk about how she overcame obstacles and fear to be living the life of her dreams.  We also spoke with Doctor Jeff Kozlowski who, alongside Bethany, believes that putting a smile on your face can help you take on any obstacle that may come your way.

Not only has Bethany overcome the physical effects of her injury, she’s embraced happiness and positivity in ways that make it absolutely impossible not to smile in her presence.  Bethany is married now, enjoying being a mother, and still following her surfing dreams – so much so that she, on a wild card entry, just had one of the most impressive performances of her career to date.  Bethany finished third in the World Surf League’s Fiji Women’s Pro and on the journey she beat six-time world champion Stephanie Gilmore and top-ranked female surfer Tyler Wright!

Bethany says that her passion drives her and that believing in yourself is the way to making your dreams come true.

I cherish the life that I have and I love to just encourage others to do the same and not focus so much on the little things that don’t matter so much but to just show off your beautiful smile and be your natural self and let your passions take you and guide you to do great things.

Bethany, who seems to have a smile constantly painted across her face, has certainly figured out that the best parts of life are free and that on your journey to happiness, if you keep your passions close and your light bright – you’ll be able to overcome anything.

Doctor Kozlowski had a lot to say about happiness and smiling too – from acknowledging that a person’s smile can definitely be their best asset and it’s important to face the world with one to knowing that choosing to be happy is the most important choice we can make, he values positivity greatly.

We have an opportunity to do so many things in this world and you can go through life being happy or you can go through life being unhappy about it.  Not everything’s going to go perfect and everybody has their flaws and everybody has things in their life that they have to overcome but doing so with a smile and happiness really helps to create the positivity that we need in society.

Another way Bethany spreads happiness is through Friends of Bethany, an organization that inspires people to be overcomers in Christ.  They hold retreats, organize charity drives, and she has a special place in her heart for their Beautifully Flawed retreat, a weekend getaway for young women who have dealt with the loss of at least one limb.  So far this event has taken place three times and all who attend leave the retreat with more hope, happiness, and promise than they came with – we can’t think of anything better than that.

Speaking to both Bethany and Doctor Kozlowski was a joy and there is inspiration to be found in the interview, check it out and see how they’ve used happiness and a bright smile to overcome their own adversity and how they encourage everyone else to do the same.  The world could always use more happiness, and we at CelebMix have been paying more attention to our smiles after our chat, we hope you will too!

Written by Ashley

Writer, coffee drinker, mother.