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PAULA ZAHN NOW

Inspirational Stories

Aired December 23, 2005 - 20:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening everyone. I'm Paula Zahn. We're glad you could join us for a special hour celebrating the season of light and hope. Tonight, you'll meet four inspiring people, each with an amazing story of triumph over tragedy. But first, a look at the hour's top stories.
JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Thanks, Paula. The great holiday rush is on. AAA estimate 51 million Americans are driving this weekend, 9 million more are at the airports. Chad Myers is each keeping an eye on the holiday travel forecast -- Chad.

(WEATHER REPORT)

KING: Thanks, Chad. And in other news, a body found in the Atlantic off Miami today is now confirmed as the missing 20th victim of Monday's sea plane crash. The man's body was discovered by a boater about nine miles south of the crash site.

Several U.S. officials have confirmed to CNN the government is monitoring mosques and other Muslim sites around the country for suspicious radiation. The program which has been in place since 2002 is aimed at detecting a potential dirty bomb attack.

A Russian robot supply ship delivered tons of supplies to the International Space Station today. The delivered chocolates from Father Frost, the Russian version of Santa.

A Utah Boy Scout deserves a badge for surviving this wound. A small knife that pierced his skull. It missed injuring his brain by just millimeters. His mother calls it a miracle.

And scientists are extending this year by one extra second. It will allow the Earth's slowing rotation to catch up with precision atomic clocks. The so-called leap second happens just before 7:00 p.m. Eastern time on New Year's Eve. Use it wisely.

Those are the headlines. Stay with us for a special edition of PAULA ZAHN NOW.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN (voice-over): Pale Rider. A passion for racing brought him fame, but at a terrible cost nearly starving himself to death.

SHANE SELLERS, JOCKEY: I'd see spots, you know, until I could aren't pull up the horse, I had to let the outrider pull me up I was so weak.

ZAHN (on camera): Do you think it's a miracle you didn't kill yourself?

(voice-over): How did he find the courage to change his life and the sport he loves? 6.

A wilderness miracle, spectacular beauty and hidden terror: a predator on the hunt.

ANNE HJELLE, ATTACKED BY MOUNTAIN LION: It knocked me of my bike and grabbed a hold of the back of my head. I finally came to the conclusion that I was going die.

ZAHN: You won't forget the story of survival, friendship and the will to live.

Meet a real-life million dollar baby, a fighter with skill and strength, a career that ended in brutal violence.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She had this pride even though she was getting beat, she wanted to get beat with dignity.

ZAHN: Her victory over her greatest challenge outside the ring.

And soul surfer: you've never met a teenager like her, a monstrous attack cost her an arm, but never her love of the waves.

(on camera): Three weeks after almost losing your life you went back into the water. What made you do that?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I guess all I can say is my love for surfing just what got me back out there.

ZAHN (voice-over): Tonight, stories of inner strength and renewal in the of the spirit of the holiday season.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: We start tonight with a story of a world-class athlete who survived decades of literally starving himself and risking his life to stay on top. But after all that he endured, he somehow found the strength to change his life and now he's committed to changing the sport he loves so much.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

S. SELLERS: This is the area that I dreaded the most.

ZAHN (voice-over): A trip to the racetrack for retired jockey Shane Sellers is now a walk through hell.

S. SELLERS: This is what I -- I call a jail, you know? It's -- it wasn't a -- it wasn't a happy -- I don't have a lot of happy memories about this place. ZAHN: But it didn't start that way. Sellers fell in love with horses and racing when he was just 11. That passion blossomed into a 26-year career, winning more than 4,000 races, earning purses worth more than $130 million. Shane Sellers is one of the nation's winningest jockeys.

S. SELLERS: It's such a rush. You know, when you pull out and that horse accelerates and you win, it's just -- it's -- it's addicting.

ZAHN: While hooked on horse racing, Sellers learned early about what he called the dark side of the sport. Every track sets weight requirements for each race, depending on the horse's age, sex and skill level, and the race's distance.

Including seven pounds of gear, a horse can generally carry about 112 to 126 pounds. That means Sellers would have to weigh between 110 and 112 pounds to make weight. Despite being 5'3", Sellers' natural weight is closer to 150 pounds. The only way he thought he could make jockey weight was to go to extremes.

S. SELLERS: In the morning, I would get up and take a -- a diet pill. I drank a cup of coffee, and then head out to the racetrack and...

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN (on camera): With no food in your stomach at all?

S. SELLERS: No food in my stomach, no.

And, you know, you go in and you see the trainers and work your horses in the morning that you have to work. By 10:00, you are finished. I would -- I would go...

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: Are your hungry at this point?

S. SELLERS: Oh, I was starving. You know, I mean, I went to bed with nothing in my stomach either, maybe just a -- you know, just a piece of ham or, you know, just grab something to put in my stomach before I went to bed and -- and head to the -- to the track and maybe lay down for an hour, and then head to the hot box with -- for -- for a couple hours and pulled four or five pounds of water.

ZAHN (voice-over): The hot box is a sauna, a fixture in almost every jockey locker room.

S. SELLERS: The hot box, the sweat box.

ZAHN: Sellers would often spend two hours inside, pulling or sweating off extra pounds.

(on camera): And are you miserable the whole time you are in there? S. SELLERS: Oh. It's -- it's horrible.

ZAHN: You have to be very weak.

S. SELLERS: Weak. You have nothing. You are -- you are already dehydrated, you know?

ZAHN: So, for more than 20 years, you went through this process of basically not eating anything during the day, sitting in the sauna a couple hours a day, sweating two or three pounds off, getting back on your horses, training and maybe -- maybe -- having a piece of ham. And that's all you had to sustain you.

S. SELLERS: Right. If I did eat anything, sometimes, when I was at my worse, I was heaving three or -- five to six, seven times a day. I was heaving.

ZAHN (voice-over): Jockeys call it heaving or flipping. Most doctors would call it bulimia. Overcome by hunger pains, Sellers would eat massive amounts of food and then throw it up to make weight.

He says a tour of the jockey locker room shows you just how easy and accepted it was.

S. SELLERS: These are regular toilets. And this is what they call a heaving. This is where they heave. You know, it's a -- it's a much different type of commode. I don't know. It's not -- I don't know if it was especially made to -- for that purpose. But it's -- it's sure not the same as the other. And that's what we used it for.

ZAHN: Is it true that some of you got so efficient at flipping that you could actually do it without putting your finger down your throat?

S. SELLERS: I was one.

ZAHN: Aside from his daily starvation diet, binging, purging and sweating in the box, Sellers says he took Lasix, a prescription diuretic that would cause him to lose more water weight. When not on the racetrack, he also ran for hours in layers of heavy sweat suits.

When he finished, he would have his wife, Kelli, wrap him in blankets to make sure he lost even more weight.

KELLI SELLERS, WIFE OF SHANE SELLERS: I was in fear of him having a heart attack. You know, I mean, it's like in -- I would try to peel the clothing off of him. And he's like, wait, no, leave it a little longer.

You know, and I would cry, like, what do you mean? You know, what are you doing, you know, and try to cool him off and, you know, help him in any way possible, and just crying. You know, I just -- I hated it, you know, because I felt like, in a way, I was almost helping him to -- to -- to kill himself.

ZAHN: Sellers was dangerously weak, a frail 112-pound man who had to control a 1,000-pound horse.

(on camera): Do you remember being dizzy?

S. SELLERS: Oh, yes, absolutely.

ZAHN: On the horse...

S. SELLERS: Yes. And when...

ZAHN: ... as you were racing?

S. SELLERS: And when I had to really ride one hard down the stretch, I would see spots, you know, until, sometimes, I couldn't pull up the horse. I had to let the outrider pull me up. I was so weak, you know?

ZAHN: Do you think it's a miracle you didn't kill yourself, because you were that weak on a horse?

S. SELLERS: Sure.

ZAHN (voice-over): And Sellers looked weak. This was Shane Sellers at the height of his career. This is Shane Sellers now. The 40-pound weight difference is startling.

S. SELLERS: I didn't know what it was like to -- to look any different. I knew I was -- I knew I was awful skinny.

ZAHN (on camera): Was it worth the cost to your body and your health?

S. SELLERS: I would say yes, only because I -- I -- what would I have done if I didn't ride?

ZAHN (voice-over): According to research, Sellers isn't alone. In a 1995 study by the Chicago Rehabilitation Institute, 69 percent of all jockeys said they skipped meals. Thirty-four percent used diuretics. Sixty-seven percent sweated off pounds in the sauna. Thirty percent flipped. And 14 percent took laxatives.

S. SELLERS: I was riding at 2, 3 percent body fat. And doctors told me what that was doing to my organs. It was cannibalizing your organs. And when doctors started looking into this, it -- it scared me. It scared me very much.

ZAHN: That fear, coupled with a devastating knee injury just last year, took Sellers out of the sport he loved so much. Deeply depressed, he began seeing a therapist, who prescribed antidepressants. Shane Sellers learned to eat again.

(on camera): Do you think that depression is a result of all the years that you went hungry and dizzy?

S. SELLERS: Well, it was a part of it, absolutely. I mean, doctors will tell you that, you know? I'm not saying anything that I -- that doctors didn't tell me. ZAHN: How is your relationship with food today? Can you eat normally?

S. SELLERS: Oh, absolutely.

No. Girl, I taught you how to cook. You couldn't...

At first, when I first quit, I would eat too much. When you heave, you eat until you until you -- and drink until you can't -- you know? And so that was -- maybe I had a problem with that, you know, and, until, like, right now, I started working out and stuff like that. And I weigh 150 pounds. And I feel good.

S. SELLERS (singing): Hallelujah, Dixieland.

ZAHN (voice-over): Now retired at a healthy weight, Sellers has found his next passion, country music.

S. SELLERS: Yes. How do you like that?

(LAUGHTER)

S. SELLERS: What's that, girl?

ZAHN: He still spends his days around horses, but now as an owner and trainer. He's also become passionate about his family, forever mindful of the time he lost when he was struggling to make weight. Now he can focus on his wife and children, making sure his young girls don't get caught up in what took so many years from his life.

S. SELLERS: People need to keep an eye out, their eyes open to this, because, when it -- it gets out of hand, you can't get it back.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Amen.

S. SELLERS: Amen.

ZAHN: Shane Sellers wants to make sure that what happened to him doesn't happen to other jockeys. He now lobbies tracks, trainers and owners to raise limits, so jockeys can ride at a healthier, more realistic weight.

S. SELLERS: I don't want to be remembered for what I did on the racetrack. I got -- I -- I was able to ride good horses that I just pointed them in the direction and they were going to win. It wasn't me. I was no better than the next guy. I want to be remembered for somebody that made a change in this industry, for the better, for riders.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: And while some racetracks have raised the weights and others agree that something needs to be done, many are resistant, claiming the extra pounds will harm the horses. Many say, if jockeys can't naturally make the weight, they shouldn't be riding at all. Shane Sellers thinks few jockeys can naturally keep a competitive weight. And he says he will continue to fight what he believes are unrealistic and unnatural requirements.

Coming up next, meet a woman who lived to tell her story of surviving an attack by a mountain lion.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It knocked me off my bike and grabbed a hold of the back of my head. And I knew right away that it was a mountain lion.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: A very scary tale, and an astonishing recovery.

Also, a real-life million dollar baby: how a female boxer fought to put her life back together after a fateful and savage bout.

And a little bit later on, the incredible story of another survivor: my interview with a 15-year-old surfer who lost her arm to a shark. She's back in the water. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: Tonight, we're focusing on stories of inner strength and renewal. Now, one of the most dramatic, a story that touches on a primal fear in all of us, being attacked by a wild animal.

Even though we spend most of our time at work, in the car, at home safe from the dangers of nature, that fear remains deep inside, yet far from reality. But for the woman you are about to meet, that stuff of imagination became frighteningly real.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN (voice-over): The Santa Monica Mountains, 150,000 acres of pure California wilderness, shared by people and wildlife. For friends Debi Nichols and Anne Hjelle, the day began normally, biking on their favorite trail.

HJELLE: It was a January day, a nice day, and we were just going to go do a short loop through an area called Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park. Probably a half hour into the ride, that was where everything changed.

ZAHN: Nearby in the dense brush, a 110-pound male mountain lion. He had already tasted human blood, killing a man biking on the same trail. Mark Reynolds' body was hidden in a deep ravine. No one knew it was there.

HJELLE: Well, we turned down a single track, it's called Cactus Hill. The trail is about 12 to 18 inches wide in most places. It's very fast. It's like a roller coaster. A lot of ruts. There's cactus. It's very heavy vegetation area. Very rough terrain. It's a lot of fun. It's something we do often.

So we headed down that trail. I was ahead of Debi by just a little ways. And the next thing I knew, I saw a flash of movement over my right shoulder.

I could tell immediately that it was some type of animal. It had a reddish-brown fur, and it knocked me off my bike and grabbed a hold of the back of my head. And I knew right away that it was a mountain lion.

ZAHN: Mountain lions can cover 40 feet in a single leap, capturing prey four times their size. But they rarely attack humans. There have been 15 confirmed attacks in California since 1890, six of them fatal. Anne was number 14.

HJELLE: The first thing I did was cry out. I said, "Jesus help me." I knew I was in a really difficult situation, and this is an animal that is totally capable of killing me very easily. So...

ZAHN (on camera): You knew that. You were looking at death at that moment.

HJELLE: Right. I knew that I was in serious trouble. As soon as I cried out, I started trying to punch over my right shoulder, thinking if I could get to hit him in the face to try to get him to release. And I still don't know to this day if I ever even touched him.

ZAHN: The lion didn't let go.

DEBI NICHOLS, FRIEND: You know, when I saw her on the ground, when I came around the corner and saw the lion on top of her, I you know, threw my bike, hoping that that would alarm him, but it didn't even faze him. So she was, you know -- he was starting to pull her down a hillside. And I thought, she's going to be out of my sight, grab her leg, you know. And it was just a tug of war from that point.

ZAHN (voice-over): The tug of war continued as the mountain lion's teeth tore into Anne's flesh.

HJELLE: He moved from the back of my neck to the side, just over my ear. When he bit down there, he punctured the ear canal. And then he moved again. And I didn't realize at the time, but he would grab on and drag me down the hillside. I wasn't aware at the time that I was being dragged.

But he grabbed onto the left side of my face. And a fang broke my nose and the other fang went into my upper lip. And the lower jaw went into my cheek here. And when he closed down, I felt basically my cheek tear away.

And at that point, I knew that my injuries were obviously very severe, and it wasn't much later that I finally came to the conclusion that I was going to die.

ZAHN: But Debi did not give up. NICHOLS: He was pulling us, both of us, you know.

ZAHN (on camera): And you're two strong women. You're a former Marine, personal trainer, fit as they come.

HJELLE: Not strong enough, though.

NICHOLS: I had my heels dug in the whole time. It was just incredible. You know, I just kept thinking how tenacious this animal was, you know.

ZAHN (voice-over): Suddenly, two bikers appeared, hearing Debi's desperate cries for help.

NICHOLS: And you know, I was just screaming at these guys to come down. And you know, they were...

ZAHN (on camera): Did they come down?

NICHOLS: They eventually did, but it, you know, it was -- it was a difficult situation for them to look and see her whole face engulfed by this mountain lion. They started just pelting rocks. And eventually, one hit.

ZAHN: And he let go?

NICHOLS: And he let go.

ZAHN: The lion released Anne and disappeared into the thick brush. Debi watched helplessly as her friend was losing blood as her chances for survival faded fast. One of the rescuers called 911.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We got a lady that is attacked by a mountain lion in her face. Her face is almost gone. I need people out here at Whiting Ranch, Cactus Ridge. She's in bad condition. I would get somebody here now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK.

HJELLE: It was 16 minutes from the 911 call until the paramedics arrived on the scene. They got an I.V. started, put a neck brace on, a little bit of bandaging and then they basically put me on the helicopter. And it took a total of 40 minutes from the initial 911 call to arriving at the hospital.

ZAHN: Anne was in critical condition. She had trouble breathing, had lost a lot of blood and had facial nerve damage. Her eye was so badly mauled, she didn't know if she would ever see again. Anne may have been alive, but she knew she would never look quite the same.

HJELLE: You look in the mirror, expecting to see your reflection that you know, and this was not my face. It's, you know, it was so swollen, stitches. It was just unbelievable to be looking at that and realizing that this is me now? I was thankful I could still see, even though I had over 30 bite wounds to the front of my neck. It didn't hit any kind of major arteries, the voice box, esophagus. Everything was OK. This animal was totally capable of taking me out. And I was here to tell the tale.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Orange County deputies shot a rifle and shotgun and did kill the mountain lion right there by the attack site.

ZAHN: The night of the attack, Orange County deputies hunted down and killed the mountain lion. The state law that protects the animal also mandates it be destroyed once it attacks a human.

In the 14 months that have passed since the attack, Anne has had three facial surgeries to reconstruct her nose, eyes and cheek. She has more surgeries ahead but continues to make progress. In fact, Anne is biking again on Cactus Trail, the same trail where she almost lost her life.

(on camera) How much courage did it take to get back on your bike again?

HJELLE: You know, I have -- I do have fear, and certain trails will trigger that fear, narrow trails with bushes on both sides. And I know statistically the chances of that happening again are basically zero.

ZAHN: When you look at your friend Debi now, you've got to look at her as almost an angel.

HJELLE: Superhero actually. No, but I know that without her I would not be here.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: Besides continuing to ride, Anne is also working with a nonprofit in the name of the man who was killed by the same mountain lion that attacked her. The Mark Reynolds' Fund gives bikes to underpriviledged children. And she also has more surgery scheduled in the spring to repair her face.

Coming up, a violent sport because bloody exploitation.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (INAUDIBLE) they allow her (INAUDIBLE) herself. She bleeds on to the opponent. And the crowd is standing up and and cheering and yelling.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: The boxer whose story is a real-life version of the film "Million Dollar Baby," and how she's found the inner strength to put her life back together.

And still ahead, a survivor story you'll never forget, a near- fatal shark attack, and a young surfer's courageous comeback.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: I want to warn you now that some of the pictures you're about to see might be a little tough for you to watch. We are tonight talking about people who have shown us amazing powers of inner strength.

Now a real-life version of the movie blockbuster, "Million Dollar Baby" about a critically-injured female boxer. The film won the Oscar for best picture. Well, that story ended in death, but that wasn't the case for the woman you're about to meet. She chose to live.

And Elizabeth Cohen has her gripping story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You know when you get in there that it's about defending yourself. It's about offense and defense.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I saw her every time she was hit. It was 140 times.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Katie made a choice that she wanted to get in there that night.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This shouldn't happen. This is not a sport which by definition is competitive.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I just have this memory of her coming at me.

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Voices and images that define one night nine years ago. One life-changing night for the boxer Katie Dallam.

KATIE DALLAM, FORMER BOXER: I do remember before going in there having this really bad feeling in my gut about it, but I didn't want to listen to that because I thought it's just my nerves or something. I just remember her coming at me with her arms swinging in a way I was not familiar with.

COHEN (on-camera): You don't remember being hit more than 100 times in the head?

K. DALLAM: I don't remember being hit. It's kind of like I see her coming and then it is blank.

COHEN (voice over): It was Katie Dallam's first professional fight, and the outcome was as disturbing as Katie's interpretation on canvas. She became the first female boxer in history to be seriously injured in the ring.

Katie's family believes that Katie's experience was the inspiration for the Oscar-winning film, "Million Dollar Baby."

(on-camera): Were you excited about getting into boxing?

K. DALLAM: Yes. I really enjoyed being able to learn, you know, just the whole thing about which punches to throw and just, it made me feel more in control, I guess. And that's my trainer.

COHEN (voice over): For 37 years Katie had pushed herself. As a young woman, she'd overcome alcoholism, did a tour in the Air Force and became a substance abuse counselor.

She always challenged herself artistically as well as physically. She took up kick boxing, and then she decided to test her skill as a professional boxer. She found a trainer and agreed to her first fight. The purse, $300. Katie got her professional boxing license just one day before that fight.

Her sister, Stephanie, remembers her trainer's words.

STEPHANIE DALLAM, KATIE'S SISTER: This girl that she's fighting really can't fight at all so there's no danger here. He's, like, you know, kind of like, don't worry, put that out of your head. I guarantee, you know, that she's not going to get hurt.

COHEN: Katie's opponent, Sumaya Anani (ph). Fifteen years younger, 30 pounds lighter than Katie. Anani was also a novice. This would be her fourth professional fight.

Round one.

S. DALLAM: Katie gets up there and this woman comes out like Tasmanian devil or something like that. I mean just like a fury of fists.

And before she can even do anything, she's being pummeled just back and forth, back and forth, and the audience is calling for her to kill Katie. And then soon Katie's nose is broken and blood is streaming down her face.

And the referee didn't pull her to the corner. The doctor didn't get out of his chair. No one goes and checks on her. No one stops the bleeding. They allow her to bleed all over herself. She bleeds onto the opponent, the crowd is standing up and cheering loud.

And my instinct was to run into the ring and to, you know, jump between them, you know, and pull this woman off of her.

COHEN: Finally, the fight was stopped early in the fourth round. Katie remained standing, but Stephanie knew that something was terribly wrong.

S. DALLAM: I said her name. I said Katie and she didn't turn. She didn't look at me. She looked really shaky. She looked like someone--you know, she didn't--she wasn't focused on anything.

COHEN: Stephanie rushed to the dressing area, but by the time she got there Katie had passed out. S. DALLAM: At that moment I realized she was going to die because nobody had any equipment and nobody was prepared to do anything to help her.

COHEN: Stephanie, who is a nurse, says she cleared an air passage so her sister could breathe. An ambulance was called. Katie was rushed to the operating room. The main vessel that connected the two hemispheres in her brain had burst.

It seemed like an eternity as Stephanie waited for word from the surgeon.

S. DALLAM: He says I've never seen anything like it. And then he says but we've got her stable right now. She's in the ICU, and you can see her.

I went to her bedside, and I basically saw her after the surgery and she had every tube imaginable, and, you know, she looked like a dead person already, and I really wasn't sure I was ever going see her again, you know, alive.

I still had the camera with me and so I took a picture because I wanted to be able to show the rest of the family what she looked like and, you know, because I didn't think they'd ever see her again.

I told them what had happened. I told them that if they wanted to see her again they should probably get on the next plane, but I couldn't guarantee she'd be alive when they got here.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: Coming up next, Katie's recovery from the brink of death and how she found the strength to go on.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

K. DALLAM: I was ready to go. But my mom had already died of breast cancer. She told me it wasn't my time to go.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: More about Katie Dallam's courageous battle to heal when we return.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: Katie Dallam nearly died in her very first professional boxing match. She suffered a horrifying beating from her opponent, who may have weighed 30 pounds less than Katie, but hit her more than 100 times.

However, unlike the heroine of the film, "Million Dollar Baby," Katie chose to live.

Once again, here's Elizabeth Cohen with Katie Dallam's amazing story of survival. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COHEN (voice over): In her book on boxing, Joyce Carol Oates writes that sport has "become America's tragic theater."

That was never more true than for Katie Dallam in a coma after surviving the brutal outcome of her first professional fight. As Katie began to come out of the coma, doctors were not optimistic. Like Maggie in "Million Dollar Baby," Katie says she remembers being ready to die until she had a vision of her mother.

K. DALLAM: I was ready to go. But my mom had already died of breast cancer, and I was talking to her and she told me it wasn't my time to go. And that pissed me off because I did not want to come back down and be in this body that had -- I mean, at that point I was really bad.

I have, like, these wires in my skull and everything, and I have horrible headaches and the broken nose and then this whole side of my body was in a lot of pain. What I remember is me and my mom talking up there and her saying, you know, it's not your time.

COHEN: That was when Katie began the fight of a lifetime.

S. DALLAM: She didn't know who she was. She wanted to go back to her life, but didn't remember her life.

COHEN: After leaving the hospital she had to learn how to walk, how to talk, how to do just about everything. Katie turned to her artwork for relief.

But because she was a different person, she became a different artist. The pastel watercolors were gone, and her painting became violent and disturbing.

K. DALLAM: Some of these pictures are pretty dark, but there's always this anger in there. It's kind of this fight to, you know, fight against these creatures or something.

COHEN: Katie's recovery would take years and during that time, her family began to ask questions. Questions about what really happened that night.

S. DALLAM: It was just a nightmare situation. I just stood by and took pictures while, you know, my sister was beaten to death in front of me. I felt dirty just for having been there.

COHEN: One fight that changed the lives of Katie and her family and became a symbol of the problems in women's boxing.

BERT SUGAR, BOXING HISTORIAN: Women's boxing is, I think, a totally disorganized sport.

COHEN: Bert Sugar is one of America's foremost boxing historians.

SUGAR: There are certainly very good fighters, but I just don't think it is the sport that I recognize as a sport.

COHEN: Sugar says because there aren't enough women fighters, bouts are often gross mismatches in weight and inexperience. And since the sport itself is relatively new, he says, there's a shortage of qualified ring officials, and that the crowd may be there for other reasons, more than just the boxing.

SUGAR: Having watched albeit sort of like this, women's boxing and watched the crowd more than the women, I would put to you that a group is there to watch the women's boxing and enjoy it. But just as many, if not more, are there to watch the women's assets. They are there almost as voyeurs.

COHEN: We asked Bert Sugar to analyze the tape of the fight between Katie and Sumya.

SUGAR: This match was no match. It was terrible, but yes, one girl at least knew she had two hands, Sumya. And the other, Katie, couldn't figure out where her other hand was. A referee would have stopped the fight because it was obvious one of the participants couldn't defend themselves.

In this case, he just let it go on and on and on until, basically a one-sided butt-whooping as Mohammed Ali used to call it.

COHEN: Why didn't Katie Dallam's corner throw in the towel? And why didn't Katie just quit?

S. DALLAM: She had this pride even though she is getting beat. She wanted to get beat with dignity. I mean, that's why I think she wouldn't go down.

COHEN: And what about Katie's opponent, Sumya Anani? How does she recall that night?

SUMYA ANANI, KATIE DALLAM'S OPPONENT: I've kind of always felt like they were blaming me, and I never understood that because I was in there just like Katie was, and I chose to get in there just like Katie did. I did what I was supposed to do and she hit back.

COHEN (on-camera): Do you have an unusual style?

ANANI: That was out of fear. I was fighting out of fear because she weighed so much. So they, you know, joke about the windmill. And I mean it's true because I was just throwing because I was scared of her weight.

COHEN (voice over): That evening nine years ago is still a blur to Katie Dallam. Today she lives by herself and her salvation has been her painting.

K. DALLAM: I feel very comfortable when I'm doing my artwork. I can talk better. I can just be okay with who I am and what I'm doing, but I get out of that realm and I don't feel so good. The only thing I feel that I'm absolutely can do is the artwork.

HILLARY SWANK, ACTOR: Because I know if you train me right I'm going to be a champ.

COHEN: Earlier this year, Katie's life changed yet again when Stephanie heard about the movie, "Million Dollar Baby."

S. DALLAM: I said I have to know if this movie's about Katie, and then Katie's like, well I have to see it, too, then because I have to know if this movie is has anything to do with what happened to me.

COHEN (on-camera): How did that movie change your life?

K. DALLAM: Immediately I felt like, OK. This did happen to me. It was like it finally put a piece of the puzzle in there, and I could accept that I have a head injury.

I mean, in the movie she has a different kind of injury. She still has her brain, but she doesn't have her body. And it made me realize, you know, she's this good fighter. She would have the same situation, but she decided to not go on whereas I have still been fighting to go on. And I don't know, I guess it made me realize I'm not weak.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: Talk about an understatement. She certainly is a very strong woman.

Elizabeth Cohen reporting for us.

Since we first brought you Katie's story back in May, she's had her first big art show. It was called Katie Dallam: Shadow Boxing.

And still ahead tonight, the story of a 15-year-old surfer who lost an arm to a shark attack. How did she find the inner strength to get back into the water?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: Three weeks after almost losing your life you went back into the water. What made you do that?

BETHANY HAMILTON, SURFER: I guess all I can say is my love for surfing just is what brought me back out there.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: Bethany Hamilton still catching waves when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: The numbers don't sound all that staggering -- fewer than 100 people a year all over the world are attacked by sharks. But knowing that doesn't really make it any less terrifying to think about the possibilities. So imagine how much courage it would take to get back into the water after being savagely attacked by a shark. Well, you're about to meet a teenage survivor who did just that.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN (voice-over): Bethany Hamilton is a surfer through and through. She grew up on these waves off the island of Kauai. At 13, she was competing in national surfing events.

Before sunrise every day, Bethany hits the beach in search of the perfect wave.

But on October 31, 2003, her life changed forever.

(on camera): Take us back to that Halloween morning, when you were attacked. What do you remember leading up to the shark actually taking your arm?

BETHANY HAMILTON, SURFER: I was just surfing with my friends. I knew right away what happened. And they all pulled me in. And soon I was in the ambulance on the way to the hospital.

ZAHN (voice-over): Bethany was attacked by a 14-foot tiger shark while she lay on her board in the surf. It tore off her left arm, and with it a huge chunk of her surfboard.

Tiger sharks often swim in the shallow waters off Hawaii. They're considered one of the most dangerous of the 32 species known to attack humans.

Bethany tried to paddle ashore on her mangled board. She was losing blood fast.

(on camera): How did you get back to shore?

HAMILTON: My friend Alana, her dad and her brother pulled me to shore.

ZAHN: If it weren't for your friend Alana's father, you might not be alive, right?

HAMILTON: Yeah, definitely.

ZAHN: So he had the wisdom to make you a tourniquet. He saw you were in trouble, and he knew he had to stop the loss of blood?

HAMILTON: Yes. He just got a surfboard leash, which is like a thin plastic rubber. So it was kind of like the perfect thing. And I guess the doctor said that was one thing that definitely saved me.

ZAHN (voice-over): Bethany was rushed into surgery, where doctors performed a traumatic amputation to close the large wound with a flap of her skin. She was lucky to be alive.

She had lost an arm, but not her spirit.

(on camera): I think it is absolutely amazing that three weeks after almost losing your life, you went back into the water. What made you do that? HAMILTON: I guess all I can say is my love for surfing just -- is what brought me back out there. And I love being in the ocean and the beach. And it was just one thing I want -- had to do, wanted to do. Fall off a horse, get back on.

ZAHN: And what was it like to be on the water for first time after you were so severely attacked?

HAMILTON: I was just happy, nervous, scared, all at the same time. And by the time I caught my first wave, I just had tears of joy. And I rode it all the way to the beach. And I was just so happy, just to be in the water, just to be surfing.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: Well, she's a champion, all right. Since we first spoke with Bethany last spring, she won the nation's biggest amateur surfing event. She's also launched a perfume and a jewelry line, and a movie based on her story is scheduled to start shooting sometime this coming spring.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: When we began this hour, we promised you you'd meet amazing people with incredible stories. I know I won't soon forget them, and we hope they stay with you this holiday season, whenever you need proof that the human spirit can endure even against overwhelming odds.

Thanks so much for being with us. "LARRY KING LIVE" is next, and we wish you and your family a very happy holiday. Good night.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com

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