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 The Independent Critic Interviews "Unstoppable" Bethany Hamilton 
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"Shark Girl" has grown up. 

Since the 2003 shark attack that claimed her left arm, surfing pro and motivational speaker Bethany Hamilton has had to deal with a variety of labels such as "shark girl" and "athlete with a disability" that have attempted to box her in and limit her extraordinary potential. Hamilton's latest project, the feature documentary "Bethany Hamilton: Unstoppable," feels like an undefining moment for Hamilton as she aims higher and achieves more than thought she possibly could after the shark attack in the early morning hours of October 31, 2003 during a training surf on the Hawaiian coast she has always called home. A month after the attack, Hamilton was back on her surfboard. Within the year, she was back in competitive surfing and has never looked back from moving forward into the life she dreamed about and worked hard for since she was a child. Within two years, she won her first national title. The subject of the acclaimed film "Soul Surfer," Hamilton won the 2004 ESPY Award for Best Comeback Athlete and the Courage Teen Choice Award. That same year, she authored her first best-selling book "Soul Surfer: A True Story of Faith, Family, and Fighting to Get Back on the Board," following that up with a 2007 short doc titled "Heart of a Soul Surfer." She's appeared in a variety of television shows ranging from your usual talk shows to such shows as "Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?," "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition," and she and her husband finished third during the 25th season of "The Amazing Race." Hamilton also made an appearance as herself in the 2014 film "Dolphin Tale 2."

A devout Christian who married youth minister Adam Dirks in 2013, Hamilton has long been involved in charitable work including that of her own foundation Friends of Bethany, though in recent years she's increasingly turned to inspiring young women to be unstoppable in life, faith, and fitness. A strong believer in wellness and living into one's highest potential, Hamilton authored the book "Body and Soul" in 2014 and has helped to create both a children's book and a photo book that are being released alongside the July 12, 2019 release of "Bethany Hamilton: Unstoppable." 

Bethany Hamilton recently spoke to The Independent Critic from her Hawaiian home, her two delightful children, Tobias and Wesley, playing joyfully in the background as their mother talked about "Bethany Hamilton: Unstoppable" along with faith, her physical challenges, and her upcoming year-long online course "Live Unstoppable" that she hopes will inspire others to live their best lives possible. 

Bethany Hamilton
Hi Richard, this is Bethany calling! 

The Independent Critic
Hey there, how are you?

Bethany Hamilton
I'm doing great. How are you?

The Independent Critic
I'm great. Thank you for your time. So, are you excited with the film getting ready to come out?

Bethany Hamilton
Yeah, I'm so excited. It took a long time to put it together and I'm really excited to get it out there. We had a great director, Aaron Lieber. It's a smaller documentary. It's a little nerve-wracking having it go into theaters. We want it to do good, but you just never know. 

The Independent Critic
Okay, I want to be respectful of your time. I know you have other calls to get to today. I want to start with something that I saw on your website. I've been looking at your website, which I love by the way. 

Bethany Hamilton
Thank you. 

The Independent Critic
You have a quote on your website and it feels like a great place to start in discussing your documentary, Bethany Hamilton: Unstoppable. You say "I loved Soul Surfer, but this is the real me." Can you explain what you mean by that? I mean, I obviously know we're talking key differences between a narrative feature and a feature documentary. 

Bethany Hamilton
Well, that's really it. Soul Surfer was actors. I was played by Annasophia Robb. My dad was Dennis Quaid and my mom was Helen Hunt. 

The Independent Critic
Wait a minute. You're mom's not really Helen Hunt? 

Bethany Hamilton
No, she's really not! So, it was obviously not my real life. I really loved the process of making that film, but it was more of a Hollywood version of our life. Unstoppable is actually real. I'm doing my thing in the ocean and it captures so much more of my life. It starts at the beginning and goes all the way up into motherhood. Whereas, Soul Surfer stops shortly after I lost my arm. They both have their awesome aspects, but it's actually been cool. I've been able to talk to some young girls who've seen the film and they're like "We loved Unstoppable. We loved getting to know the real Bethany." I think it's going to be exciting to see how people like it.

The Independent Critic
I'm wondering. There's a scene in Unstoppable where you talk about not particularly enjoying interviews because you do get a lot of the same questions all the time, especially about the shark attack. I know you've done a lot of media anyway with shows like The Amazing Race and several others, but is this difficult for you? 

Bethany Hamilton
Yeah (laughs). I was definitely dreading the promotional aspects of making this film. There's been a lot of interviews the last few days and it's just weird talking about myself. I'm excited, don't get me wrong. It's different talking about yourself all the time. You just want to have a normal conversation. 

The Independent Critic
One of the things I really liked about this film, and I don't know if it was intentional, but it almost seems like it undefines you. Soul Surfer, for example, really focused on the shark attack and the subsequent physical challenges. Unstoppable really focuses on your strengths. 

Bethany Hamilton
That's exactly why I was so excited about it. Rather than just focusing on the drama, we focused on the triumphs. That's the thing about Hollywood. They're always thinking about drama, drama, drama and they'll create false drama if they have to in real life stories. With Unstoppable, I really loved our director and producer. We didn't want to overtell the story. We wanted it to be visual. We wanted it so a person could watch it and create their own thoughts toward Bethany and what she's going through and what she's overcome and just how she gets through life. That's kind of my personal mission. I'm not overly open, I guess you could say. I'll talk if I'm asked, but I'm more likely to be laid back and have a real conversation or just listen. 

The Independent Critic
Yet, here again, looking at your website you're really putting yourself out there as someone who emphasizes wellness and, well, living unstoppable. I think you're reaching a population of people, and like you I don't want to box people into their labels, who don't often get that kind of encouragement. I should tell you, I'm a paraplegic/double amputee myself and I don't see a whole lot of people out here talking about actual fitness and wellness and living up to one's highest potential to people who have physical challenges or disabilities. 

Bethany Hamilton
Oh cool! Well, not cool...but you know what I mean! 

The Independent Critic
I do!

Bethany Hamilton
I think a lot of that comes from my being a professional athlete. I'm looking for the best way to perform. I want to wake up feeling good. I want to perform to the best of my ability. Along the way, I've learned how to take care of myself and to push myself in different areas of my life. It makes a big difference. I just want people to feel good and wake up energized and not depressed or down. I want them to get out there and feel good about themselves. I think that part of being unstoppable is just that being able to take care of yourself. It doesn't have to be super fancy. There's simple, affordable ways to be healthy and to enjoy life and take care of yourself and get outside and enjoy beautiful nature. 

The Independent Critic
I know you're very open about your faith. I assume you're comfortable talking about it here. Can you talk about how this journey here has been impacted by your faith and, in turn, also impacted your faith?  

Bethany Hamilton
Going back to my childhood days, I had a young faith. Going into the time when I lost my arm, I did believe in God and I did believe that His faithfulness to me was true and good and reliable. When this happened, I was just okay. I had that faith in God. I knew that "Okay, we're going to get through this and God's going to turn this into something good." He certainly did and can do that for all of us. I think we grow through the tough times and we learn through the tough times. You can overcome. Ever since then, that's been my rock. Now, as a mom I kind of get that experience with my boys as a parent. 

The Independent Critic
I want to ask you a question. It may be a little silly, but I'm going to ask it anyway. There's another statement you have with the film and on your website. You're very quotable, by the way, but you say "It doesn't have to be easy, just possible." I'm kind of wondering if you've had those experiences along your healing journey where you've said "Okay, this is impossible." I mean, you kind of come off as pretty super human much of the time. 

Bethany Hamilton
Oh well, yeah. Have you seen Unstoppable yet?

The Independent Critic
Yes, I have seen it.

Bethany Hamilton
Well, just trying to be competitive. There's definitely a lot of ups and downs. It's hard to be consistent in the ocean. Sometimes, the competitive aspects have felt like such a drag and incredibly frustrating and discouraging at times. At times, I'd kind of let it go. Then, I'd go back to it. I tried rock climbing. That's pretty hard with one arm. Sometimes, I give up when my one-year-old doesn't want me to change his diaper and when he's wiggling out and screaming like a mad child! There's definitely always moments of frustration or when you just don't have it. You don't have to be perfect to be unstoppable. You don't have to be a super human. Being unstoppable is more about overcoming and persevering and healing. It's about living life and moving forward. 

The Independent Critic
A lot of the stories that you include on your website are incredible. You do work with people who have a wide variety of physical challenges and circumstances. 

Bethany Hamilton
You mean some of the "Stories of Hope?" 

The Independent Critic
Exactly. Yes. 

Bethany Hamilton
Through my foundation, we do a retreat for amputee women every year. That's my favorite thing throughout the year as far as outreach. It's really special. It's cool to get all the different stories and backgrounds of all these young women overcoming in their own ways. It's an incredible time.  

The Independent Critic
Can you talk about your "Live Unstoppable" online course? 

Bethany Hamilton
We tried to think "What more can we do than a retreat?" We wanted it to be something that would help people throughout the year. We came up with this idea of a 12-month course where we'll talk about different needs and subjects like being grounded in your identity and trying to tackle a lot of the tough subjects that young people are dealing with now like boundaries with social media. We want to help them get past their tough times and find their place in the world. We're excited about it. We can't wait to see if we can just do more, but I can still do it from home because I'm a mom with two little boys and it's hard to travel. We'll do video chats and that sort of thing. We'll see how it goes. We'll probably continually do something similar and adjust it. I'm so excited about it. 

The Independent Critic
I know we're winding down here. I want to end by talking about the film. So, simple question...Why should people head out to see Bethany Hamilton: Unstoppable?

Bethany Hamilton
It's really cinematically beautiful. I think there's a lot to take away. You'll leaving feeling encouraged and empowered to overcome. I really feel like it goes into the category of one of those films that you'll want to watch again and again. It's just going to be an encouragement in your life. 

The Independent Critic
Well, again. I truly thank you for your time and wish you the best with your film and upcoming projects. 

Bethany Hamilton
Thank you!

Bethany Hamilton: Unstoppable arrives in theaters nationwide on July 12, 2019. For more information on the film, visit the official Unstoppable website. For more information on Bethany and her upcoming projects, visit the official Bethany Hamilton website. 

© Interview by Richard Propes 
The Independent Critic 

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