The Comeback Kid

updated 01/26/2004 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 01/26/2004 AT 01:00 AM EST

Shark? What shark? On Jan. 10, 13-year-old competitive surfer Bethany Hamilton was not only back riding the waves, she placed fifth out of 24 entrants in the open women's division of the National Scholastic Surfing Association tournament in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, less than three months after a tiger shark ripped off her left arm. "It was definitely fun," Hamilton says of her first competition since the attack. "But I've got a lot more work to do."

To train, she surfed daily for a month, drilled on a balancing board at her Kauai home and strengthened her arm. In the water Hamilton mounts her customized board (7 in. longer than before) using a special strap, then kicks and paddles into the waves. With just one arm, she no longer speeds to the sweet spot of a breaking wave. Instead she tries to position herself in advance. Then, supporting herself with her hand, she springs in one motion to her feet. Though she has quickly come to terms with the stump she calls Stubby, "I always have two arms in my dreams," she notes. "They aren't special dreams. Just ordinary. But I always have two arms."

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