A poster of professional surfer Bethany Hamilton, who lost her left arm to a shark attack at age 13, hangs on the wall of Toni Crebbin’s classroom at Coupeville Middle School. Printed below an image of Hamilton surfing are the words: “Me quit? Never.”
The poster’s purpose goes beyond motivating Crebbin’s students. It’s more personal than that.
When Crebbin sees Hamilton, see also sees her daughter, Jaelyn, who, like Hamilton, has a limb difference. She was born without the lower half of her left forearm.
The Crebbins find Hamilton inspirational. Rather than retreat after her accident, Hamilton excelled and used her platform to form Friends of Bethany, a faith-based organization that encourages “every individual to overcome the trials, pains and difficulties of life.” One of the foundation’s programs is Beautifully-Flawed, a retreat designed for young women who have experienced traumatic limb loss.
Jaelyn attended the latest retreat, Oct. 21-25 in Del Mar, Calif.
“My mom read about it through the International Child Amputee Network group she is a part of on Facebook,” Jaelyn said. “She thought about me because Bethany Hamilton has been my role model since I was a young kid.”
At the retreat, Jaelyn took part in daily morning workouts with professional trainers, worked on crafts, listened to inspirational speakers with limb differences and attended small group sessions with other girls.
“And, of course, surfing lessons by professional teachers and Bethany,” Jaelyn said.
Attendees also had the option of attending sessions such as nutrition, cross fit and breathing techniques.
“I wish everyone had the opportunity to experience something like this,” Jaelyn said. “Like they said at the retreat, ‘You are not defined by your scars or limb loss.’ Everyone has their own scars and weaknesses.”
The biggest takeaway from the retreat for Jaelyn was learning the importance of connecting with others who understand what her life is like.
“I never knew I was missing that in my life until I went to the retreat,” she said. “I now have several new lifelong friends. I learned to not wish things but instead accept myself the way I am.”
Over the years, Jaelyn has gotten used to the stares but wishes people would judge her on her accomplishments and qualities and not her appearance.
She likes the challenge of “succeeding at things people limit me to.”
Her limb difference, she said, has pushed her to work harder than the average person.
“At the retreat, we each chose a word to represent us, and they gave each girl a bracelet with the word inscribed. I chose persistence.”
Another attribute of her limb difference is that it has taught her to be compassionate with others because of what she’s been through.
“I don’t consider myself disabled,” she said. “When it comes to my arm, I use my sense of humor when I’m around my friends. I use any frustrations I have to keep me focused and driven when playing sports.”
Sports are a big part of the Crebbins’ lives. Toni and husband Mike coached at the high school level for many years. Joelyn, 15, and her sister Kaia, 15, are both sophomore members of the Oak Harbor High School volleyball team and brother Josh, 25, was a state-level wrestler in high school. The family also includes Kellen, 28.
“In fifth grade (my mother) volunteered to coach at Hillcrest for me and my sister,” Jaelyn said. “I think that started my love of volleyball. This year I am excited that she will be coaching my club team.”
Jaelyn was recently called up from the Oak Harbor High School junior varsity team to play with varsity through the postseason.
Oak Harbor head coach Kerri Molitor said Jaelyn is “a great kid.”
“She is well respected by her teammates,” Molitor said. “Jaelyn is a quiet leader with high integrity. She has the confidence to have a hard conversation with a teammate, but does so in a kind manner. She is also an intrinsically hard worker.”
Toni Crebbin said she and Mike adopted Jaelyn from China when Jaelyn was two-and-a-half years old. Fears on how they were going to teach Jaelyn to do daily tasks were immediately doused.
They discovered Jaelyn could already dress herself, and quickly learned their daughter could solve almost any “how to” issue on her own.
After the adoption, the Crebbins had Jaelyn checked out at Children’s Hospital in Seattle.
“They were impressed by her advancement,” Toni Crebbin said.
“I think we learned more from her than she did from us,” Toni added. “We learned not to overthink things.”
Toni also noted that Jaelyn’s limb difference has helped make her daughter “the hard worker and positive person she is.”
“She won’t let anything stop her, and she is not embarrassed by how she looks,” Toni added.
Jaelyn said her mother challenges and encourages her to take risks, all while allowing her to fail.