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Then & Now: Bethany Hamilton

Then: Less than a month after the attack, surfer Bethany Hamilton returned to the water.



Kauai (Hawaii)

(CNN) -- Nearly two years ago, elite surfer Bethany Hamilton was attacked by a shark, losing her left arm and nearly her life. Today, the teenager is catching big waves once again on a specially designed surfboard, and she's written a book about her journey back to the water.

On Halloween morning in 2003, Bethany Hamilton, then 13, was on her surfboard in clear waters off the coast of Kauai's North Shore in Hawaii when a shark -- later estimated by authorities to be between 12 and 15 feet long -- bit off her left arm just below her shoulder and disappeared.

Less than a month after the attack, Hamilton described her confrontation with the shark to CNN.

"My left arm was laying in the water and my other arm was just holding on to my board and the shark, just, like came up and attacked me and it, kind of pulled me back and forth.

"It was about a two- to three-second period and when it ... was attacking me all I saw was like a gray blur."

Bleeding profusely from a gash that was approximately 16 inches long and 8 inches wide, Hamilton used her right arm to paddle to shore where a friend's father used a surf leash to fashion a tourniquet.

Hamilton's mother, Cheri, credits that move with saving her daughter's life, but the young athlete still lost 70 percent of her blood that morning.

Hamilton was rushed to Wilcox Memorial Hospital where her father, Tom, was scheduled to have knee surgery that morning. She took his place in the operating room.

Hamilton's doctors credit her excellent physical condition with her survival and quick recovery. Only months after the attack, the teenager was back on a surfboard and performing competitively.

"I'm there to have fun and not be scared because it is pretty rare for someone to get attacked twice," she told CNN in late 2004. "The day I got back on my board ... it was not necessarily hard. I was just so glad to get back in the water, because I'd been anxious for like a week.

"When I first got up on my first wave, or it was actually my third wave, but I rode it all the way to the beach, and after that, I just had, like, tears of happiness. ... I was so stoked to be out there."

That same year she placed fifth in the National Surfing Championships and secured a spot for herself on the U.S. National Surfing Team.

She also won an ESPY award from ESPN for Best Comeback athlete, and a special courage award at the 2004 Teen Choice Awards.

Her experiences compelled her to write a book, "Soul Surfer," which made the Los Angeles Times best-seller list.

"I mainly wrote the book just to tell my faith with God and to let everyone know that he loves them, and [to let them know] just how much he took care of me that day," she said. "I wouldn't be here because I lost 70 percent of my blood that morning, and it was kind of rare for me to even make it. I was just praying the whole way in."

In addition to the publishing world, Hamilton also has dipped into the fashion pool. Her perfume line -- in bottles shaped like surfboards -- debuted in spring 2005.

Between training, Hamilton journeys around the globe as a motivational speaker. In April 2005, she visited the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, a military hospital in Germany. There she met with U.S. troops severely injured in Iraq, many of whom also had lost limbs.

Hamilton said she wants to encourage other people to follow their dreams despite obstacles that seem insurmountable.

"[People] can do whatever they want if they just set their heart to it, and just never give up, and just go out there and do it," she said.

A movie chronicling her brush with death and return to the sport she loves begins filming this year.

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