Teen surfing champ
inspires tsunami orphans

NEW YORK » Bethany Hamilton, the Kauai teenage surfer whose arm was torn off in a shark attack nearly two years ago, continues to transform her loss into a motivator to help others in pain.

The 15-year-old surfing champion recently returned from Thailand, where she encouraged children, many of them orphaned by the Dec. 26 tsunami, to enjoy the ocean again.

With surfboard in tow, she slowly walked one trembling 8-year-old boy into the breaking waves off the village of Phuket after telling him of her own catastrophe. The boy had lost his parents and two brothers in the tsunami, which engulfed Thailand's shores and killed thousands of people. After a few moments, she helped the youngster onto the board, and his fear dissolved into a broad smile.

"I think God wants me to do this for him, to care for people," Bethany said in an interview yesterday following an announcement by Subway restaurants that the teen will be starring in "Be a Champion" commercials to encourage children to eat healthy food and stay active.

Hamilton, of Princeville, said "so much good" has come out of the shark attack, which severed her left arm just below the shoulder. She said she has raised funds for Hurricane Katrina victims, entertained children with cancer and visited soldiers and Iraqi amputees at three U.S. military hospitals in Germany.

Her father, Tom Hamilton, said she gave pep talks to the children she visited. "She was like a light bulb when she walked into their rooms," he recalled.

Bethany Hamilton encouraged the soldiers to overcome their injuries and hold on to their dreams. Most of them were not much older than she.

From the start, she has put a positive face on her tragedy, pushing her parents to let her return to surfing just weeks after the shark attack.

On Halloween 2003 she was resting on her surfboard with her arm dangling in the ocean off Kauai when a shark bit off her arm and a massive chunk of her board.

Her father said she is a reluctant celebrity but accepts her role as someone who has overcome adversity.

She won her first national surfing title this year and said she eventually wants to turn professional. She is about to sign a book deal, and casting for her movie, "Soul Surfer," begins next month.

"I'm going to give it my best shot in life without ever giving up," she said.

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