Newlyweds Bethany Hamilton and Adam Dirks hurry through the crowded streets of Manila, Philippines. They dodge public transport jeepneys and padyaks and then spot what they are searching for: the bright yellow envelope containing their clue for the reality TV game show “The Amazing Race.” It reveals their Detour, the challenge they must complete before moving on. Next up — street basketball against the locals.
A subtle look of nervousness flashes across Bethany’s face. Basketball is a difficult game with one arm. But next we see her inbounding a lob to Adam. Bethany doesn’t catch every pass, but she’s a worthy competitor. And Adam sinks the final free throw for the victory.
“Sometimes I get nervous about not being able to do a challenge with one arm,” Bethany says in a cutaway interview. “I don’t want to let Adam down. I don’t want to be the weaker link. But I love doing Detours because we’re doing it together, and we have teamwork ideas about how to do it best.”
That same teamwork stood out throughout “The Amazing Race, Season 25,” powering Bethany and Adam, the “Soul Surfers,” all the way to the final four teams. And it’s that togetherness, mutual respect and sense of adventure with which they approach life and marriage.
You probably recognize Bethany. There’s a good chance you’re one of the millions who saw Soul Surfer, the 2011 movie that dramatized her inspiring, true story. You might even remember the original events: Early on a bright October morning in 2003, Bethany was surfing at a popular break in Kauai, Hawaii, when a 14-foot tiger shark attacked and severed her left arm. It was a miracle she survived. The media story immediately went global and kept grabbing headlines when Bethany was back on the board, surfing again only three weeks later. The 13-year-old, sun-kissed surfer girl was an inspiration to millions. And every chance she got, Bethany simply and clearly talked about Jesus.
As she grew up, Bethany, now 25, achieved her dream of becoming a pro surfer. She has used her platform to speak, write books and start the Friends of Bethany Foundation, all with the goal of sharing the hope and love of Jesus, as well as supporting and encouraging shark attack victims and amputees.
Despite her celebrity, Adam says he didn’t know much about Bethany’s story at first. He grew up in Kansas and had never seen Soul Surfer. He later moved to Kauai for a Young Life internship and stayed to continue youth ministry there.
At the encouragement of a mutual friend, Adam called Bethany, and the two met at a beach with other friends. Adam and Bethany were the only two who jumped off a 40-foot cliff into the ocean, and afterward, they began spending time hiking and surfing together. They married in August 2013.
Building a team
You don’t become a pro surfer with one arm by waiting for other people to do everything for you. Although Bethany’s close-knit family has been a big support, she has still spent half her life learning to be independent.
But marriage for anyone is a dance of blending independence and dependence. Navigating those steps has been a learning curve for Bethany and Adam.
“The main thing is communication when it comes to balancing teamwork and individuality,” Adam says. “Even in the small things — like opening a jar of peanut butter — I’m learning that it’s my responsibility because it’s super hard for her. But then there are things like carrying a large jug of water, and she’s like, ‘No, I’ve got this.’ ”
As Bethany and Adam continue learning their give-and-take, she admits her pride can get in the way of asking for help. “I’m usually pretty keyed into figuring out how to do things on my own,” she says. “But at the end of the day, it’s so much better ‘teamworking’ it, and if Adam is better at something, he should go ahead and do it.”
The tenacity, teamwork and mutual respect of both Soul Surfers were impressive during “The Amazing Race.”
“I grew in my trust of Bethany throughout the race, trusting that she can handle whatever situations may come her way and learning to trust how she deals with adversity,” Adam says. “It was pretty cool.”
“I was thankful for how well we worked together as a team,” Bethany says. “I think in marriage it’s essential to cheer each other on and work together and have grace for each other. The race proved that we can tackle a lot together.”
Bethany spends six to nine months of the year jetting around the world for surf contests, media appointments and speaking engagements.
“Before I met Adam, I always knew it’d have to be a special guy to be patient to put up with the life I live because it’s definitely unique,” Bethany says.
Going into marriage, the couple decided they didn’t want to live by Facetime or Skype. So Adam travels with Bethany, helping her prepare for speaking and ministry engagements and sometimes sharing the stage with her.
“My calling is to love my wife and support her in everything she does,” Adam says. “It’s important for us to travel together and for me to be there for her. And it’s a huge blessing for us to be able to do that together.”
Still, Bethany and Adam savor their time at home where the slower pace, the quiet and beauty of Kauai make it a perfect setting to step out of the limelight and refresh.
When pressure from media and fans is stressful or they encounter other difficulties in their marriage, Adam says they rely on the strength of their wedding vows as their foundation. “When we stood before our family and friends and before God, He brought us together under His name, and that’s something that’s binding,” Adam says. “We seek to love each other with the love He has given us and be kind and patient with each other, and we know we can only do these things through Christ.”
Of course, marriage is a race that lasts a lifetime, but the Soul Surfers have proven they’re off to an excellent start.
Still, Bethany acknowledges, “You never know what’s going to come your way, and you just have to encourage each other in the Lord and keep the Lord in the center.”
“There will be places to show grace and forgiveness and to love each other how God calls us to love,” Adam says. “We’ll keep growing in that.”
Jeremy V. Jones is a contributing writer for Thriving Family and the author of The Action Bible Devotional.