A standing-room-only crowd of all ages packed a Missouri library on Friday to hear athlete and activist Riley Gaines and professional surfer Bethany Hamilton spread positive messages for children about overcoming challenges.
Gaines, a former NCAA swimmer at the University of Kentucky, and Hamilton, a professional surfer, visited The Library Center in Springfield, Missouri as part of the Brave Books Story Hour tour. Brave Books publishes children’s books focused on families and biblically-based values.
Gaines read her newly published book, Happy No Snakes Day, about standing courageously for the truth, and Hamilton read her book, Surfing Past Fear, about a surfing otter overcoming the challenge of a broken arm.
Gaines has become widely known for women’s sports advocacy after a decorated collegiate swimming career which also saw her face trans swimmer Lia Thomas, a biological male.
Hamilton has also become well known after her autobiography, Soul Surfer, became a feature film in 2011. It tells the story of how she almost lost her life surfing at 13 when her left arm was nearly bitten off by a shark. Amazingly she eventually surfed professionally after the injury.
Both women attribute their success and advocacy to their Christian faith.
More than 150 adults and children filled the story hour room to capacity, while hundreds more waited in a line that stretched outside the building. Brave Books sponsored more than 20 other story hour events nationwide in the last year, with similarly large turnouts.
The crowd was primarily made up of women who brought their children or grandchildren to hear the athletes speak.
Gretchen Garrity, of Clever, Missouri, brought her five grandchildren to the event.
“We are here to support Brave Books because the kids love reading them,” she told The Lion. “I support their mission and helped organize getting them in libraries in Christian County.”
Eight-year-old Addie, of Springfield, came with her mother to the story hour because of her admiration for Hamilton.
“I like how she still surfs, even after getting her arm bitten by the shark,” she said. “It’s neat how she still surfs and how God helped her through it.”
Valentina Gomez, a candidate for Missouri Secretary of State, also attended the event in support of the athletes’ stance on protecting female sports.
“‘I’m a former Division I college swimmer,” Gomez told local media. “I got my MBA at Tulane, full-ride scholarship, just like Riley Gaines, and we’re fighting for children. That’s why I got invited; I’m fighting for Missouri. She’s fighting for the children. She’s fighting for women’s spaces.”
A handful of protestors were present at The Library Center, one of them holding a stuffed shark, an apparent “trans icon” and not necessarily an allusion to Hamilton’s gruesome injury.
Gaines was elsewhere in Missouri last week, in St. Louis as an ambassador for the Independent Women’s Voice (IWV) organization and its Women’s Bill of Rights. While there, she stood alongside Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey as he signed the IWV’s Stand with Women Commitment, promising to champion legislation that preserves female opportunities and private spaces.
“I’ve been traveling state to state really to advance legislation to uphold and preserve our safeguard of women, our opportunities and privacy of undressing,” Gaines said at the event. “Our spaces and equal opportunities are at risk because of a radical agenda to erase sex and replace it with gender identity.”