Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024 |
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Bethany Hamilton has been the continual inspiration for Julia since she lost her independence and mobility and ended up in a wheelchair.
So the chance to not only meet her hero, but ride some waves with her at Hanalei Bay, was a giant thrill for the girl at a time she needed it most.
“I admire her courage and bravery to overcome the loss of her arm, to fight back by getting back in the water and for returning to surfing,” Julia said. “I underwent multiple brain surgeries that changed my life. The message I learned from Bethany was you don’t need to give up, even in ever-changing circumstances, and you are not alone.”
The annual Make-A-Wish Hawaii Surf Camp with Hamilton returned this year from Monday through today, granting the wishes of 13 children struggling with life-threatening medical conditions from across the country.
Their shared wish was to meet and surf with the world-famous, Kauai-born surfer — but what they experienced was much more than a meet-and-greet. It was a week of new friendships, life-changing experiences and island respite with other children who understand their unique struggles.
“When a child with a life-threatening medical condition is asked to make a wish, often their greatest desire is to meet someone who has been their source of inspiration as they faced unthinkable adversities,” said Make-A-Wish Hawaii President and CEO Siana Austin Hunt. “Bethany inspires them with her incredible story of resilience and triumph, and the Make-A-Wish Hawaii Surf Camp with Bethany Hamilton gives those kids hope, strength and joy for a lifetime.”
The surf camp began as an opportunity for a handful of wish kids to meet Hamilton, but quickly expanded to include surfing and other island activities with pro surfers who wanted to give back and make a difference in the lives of these special kids from across the nation.
This year, 13 wish kids bonded with surfing pros including Alana Blanchard, Brianna Cope, Evan Valiere, Kalani Vierra, Krystl Apeles, James Donnelly, Nage Melamed, Rochelle Ballard and Russell Lewis.
Donnelly said his favorite part is seeing the kids bond at the camp.
“I love seeing two kids who would have never met and who are in different hospitals and in different parts of the world become fast friends,” he said. “Koehn would go up and hug Violet hello and goodbye. Big, good hugs like a best friend. And bonding also with the Hamilton family. Julia taking with Adam, talking like they’ve known each other like he’s a brother.”
Other activities included professional family photo sessions, storytelling, star gazing, a Kauai backcountry adventure and a Hawaiian luau.
Make-A-Wish Hawaii Surf Camp was founded in 2014 to serve wish kids from all over the nation. Meeting Hamilton was at the heart of many of the young campers.
The pro surfer was born and raised on Kauai. On the morning of Halloween 2003, the 13-year-old was attacked by a 14-foot tiger shark. Surviving the ordeal, Bethany lost her left arm, but was back on her surfboard in just a month and continued on to become a professional surfer in 2007.
Her story, first written as an autobiography, turned into a major motion picture, “Soul Surfer,” released in 2011. She has become an inspiration to many, including wish kids across the nation.
“I’m inspired by Bethany’s ability to overcome an incredibly difficult personal situation with a smile on her face and her faith in God as a guiding light for her life,” said Tara. “I hope to overcome leukemia and be a positive force, just like Bethany.”
Claudia said she looked to Hamilton as a role model.
“When I saw Bethany was a part of her local church, it made me want to attend church more as well,” she said. “I became a part of my local church, and when I told my pastor about my battle with cancer I started to cry. I never cry!”
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