'Soul Surfer' inspiration accepts student's invite

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Calgary Christian Elementary School student Amaliya Gooliaff and the letter she wrote to inspirational surfer Bethany Hamilton.

CALGARY – “Never quit” is a great motto to live by, but first you have to get into the game.

That’s exactly what Amaliya Gooliaff did. And in the process, the Calgary Christian School  student – perhaps aided by the innocence of youth – convinced the subject of her favourite movie to share her inspirational message north of the border for the very first time.

Bethany Hamilton, whose story of perseverance inspired the major motion picture “Soul Surfer,” will make her first Canadian appearance Oct. 6 at the WinSport arena in Calgary. The event is a fundraiser for CCS and tickets for “An Evening with Bethany Hamilton” are still available through www.ticketmaster.ca

“Soul Surfer” tells the story of the 13-year-old Hawaii native who lost her arm in a shark attack while surfing with friends. She returned to the water just a month later to fulfil her dream to be a professional surfer.

After watching the movie for the first of many times, Amaliya – then a Grade 3 student – wrote Hamilton asking her to speak at her school.

“I liked that it is a true story and she trusts God that she can do anything and that God can help,” says the now Grade 4 student, adding the movie’s message of “never give up” stuck with her.

Her mother, Shauna Gooliaff, a teacher at Calgary Christian Elementary School, found a phone number for Hamilton’s public relations agency. Amaliya was “kind of crossing my fingers and a little bit thought she might do it” when she dialed the number and asked to speak to Hamilton.

Although the star surfer wasn’t available at the time, Amaliya read her letter over the phone and the agency said they would look into the possibility of bringing Hamilton to Canada.  Amaliya shared her dream with her principal and that set the wheels rolling for the Calgary Society for Christian Education to work out the details. The society is Palliser’s partner in delivering the alternative, faith-based program.

Until everything was ironed out, the young student couldn’t share the news with any of her schoolmates, which may have been harder for her than making that initial phone call.

“An Evening with Bethany Hamilton” –  her only appearance in Canada this year – begins 7 p.m. , Oct. 6 at Canada Olympic Park.

Art is Amaliya’s favourite subject at school, and she plans to present Hamilton with a picture she drew of surfer holding her board. The nine-year-old already knows what she wants to tell her.

“That she inspires me and I want to go to the Olympics in figure skating,” she says.

Now in her fifth year of skating, the Calgary youth bought a new skate bag with waves on it to remind her of Hamilton and her message. She also put a school sticker on it bearing a biblical verse.

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” she recites.

For more information on the event and Bethany Hamilton, go to www.soulsurferyyc.com

To learn more about Calgary Christian’s elementary and secondary schools, which are part of Palliser Regional Schools with a total enrolment of more than 800 students, go to www.calgarychristianschool.com