'It's degrading': Surfer who lost arm in shark attack tells why she rejected 'disabled' award

Ben Brennan

An amputee surfer has explained why she rejects the term disabled, after famously pulling out of a prestigious awards ceremony earlier this year.

Bethany Hamilton, who recovered from a shark attack to become one of the sport’s top stars, had been nominated for an ESPY, an awards program run by US sports network ESPN in July.

However, she pulled out just days before the ceremony because she did not believe the disabled athlete category was fitting.

“I’d been nominated in a disability category and I don’t look at myself as disabled, or any of the athletes in that category,” she told Larry and Kylie on the Morning Show.

Bethany Hamilton surfs in the Roxy Pro women's surf competition in Haleiwa, Hawaii in 2005, more than a year after losing her arm. Photo: AP
Today Bethany Hamilton is still tackling some of the biggest waves, and the biggest stars, in surfing. Photo: The Morning Show

“All of these athletes are incredible and to call them disabled is kind of degrading in a sense. How do I term it... Adaptive. If anything I look at us as adaptive.”

Hamilton was famously attacked by a tiger shark on October 31, 2003 off Kauai, Hawaii, while surfing with friend and fellow star Alana Blanchard.


Within months she was back on the board, and has since become one of the world’s most respected surfers, a mother, and the subject of several books and films.

Her list of achievements gives some hint as to why Hamilton rejects the term disabled.

“I just competed against Stephanie Gilmore, Australia’s six-time world champ and I took her down so why would you call me or put me in a disabled category? I’m far from disabled,” she said.

In the years following the shark attack, Bethany Hamilton conquered some of the world's top surfers, married and began a family. Photo: The Morning Show

“So I hope ESPN got the message that, like, hey, if anything, we’re adaptive.“

Hamilton was nominated for the Best Female Athlete With a Disability award alongside marathon racer Tatyana McFadden, volleyball player Heather Erickson, cross-country skier Oksana Masters and cyclist Shawn Morelli.

Hamilton has previously accepted an ESPY award, however.

In 2004 she was named the winner of the Best Comeback Athlete award after returning to the water so quickly after the 2003 shark attack.