With the war still raging in Iraq and a monstrous natural disaster capping the year on the day after Christmas, it may seem as though the past 12 months have been filled with nothing but bad news.
But in the midst of all the negative headlines, some positive news shone through. Here are some of the stories that left us feeling good in 2004:
She lost an arm, but she never lost her heart ... or her pluck. In a triumph over adversity, the brave Hawaiian girl whose arm was bitten off by a shark at the end of 2003 got back up on her surfboard to ride the waves at the start of this year.
Bethany Hamilton (search), 13, surfed in a competition in Hawaii in January only 10 weeks after losing her left arm in the shark attack. She placed fifth in her age group in a National Scholastic Surfing Association meet.
Bethany made headlines after she was attacked on Oct. 31, 2003, as she lay on her surfboard in the waters off Kauai’s North Shore. Her left arm was dangling in the water when the fish — possibly a tiger shark — bit her below the shoulder and then disappeared.
She had surgery to amputate her arm and repair the wound, and was back in the water by Thanksgiving Day of 2003.
In the competition, Bethany caught a 6-foot-wave, using her left foot to help her propel the board.
A New Jersey woman was reunited with her 6-year-old daughter, who had been declared dead in an accidental electrical fire just 10 days after she was born.
The child was, in fact, kidnapped — allegedly by a woman named Carolyn Correa (search), a cousin by marriage of the girl's father. Police said Correa set the blaze to cover up the abduction.
Luz Cuevas (search), 31, had always suspected that her daughter, Delimar Vera — who now goes by the name Aliyah Hernandez — was still alive.
But she knew it for sure when she was introduced to the little girl at a birthday party last January. Pretending that the child had gum in her hair, Cuevas snipped off a few strands and took them for DNA testing, which proved her hunch right: little Delimar was the daughter she thought had died six years earlier.
The child was allegedly snatched from her crib by Correa, 42, in December 1997. Authorities said Correa then torched Cuevas' home to conceal the kidnapping and raised the little girl as her own.
Authorities concluded at the time that the fire had been sparked by a homemade extension cord attached to a space heater. Though the blaze was extinguished in about 10 minutes, the baby’s room was gutted. Police believed her body had been consumed by the flames.
Cuevas didn’t buy it. She found it suspicious that the window was open in the child’s room, even though it was December, and that Correa announced she was pregnant shortly after the baby’s birth but then cut off all contact with Cuevas after the fire.
Once the kidnapping was discovered, Correa was taken into custody and held on $1 million bail. The child was placed back in Cuevas’ care.
Baseball's Curse of the Bambino ended after 86 years when the Boston Red Sox (search) won the World Series for the first time since 1918.
The Sox swept the St. Louis Cardinals (search) in four games after winning their cliffhanger American League playoff series with the New York Yankees (search). In that series, the Bosox became the first team in baseball postseason history to overcome a 3-0 deficit to win a seven-game series.
Legend had it that the Boston team had been cursed since it sold Babe Ruth (search) to the Yankees in 1920. The Sox had been to several World Series since then, but they'd always come up short in the end.
But this year, there was finally joy in Red Sox Nation, thanks to the timely hitting of Johnny Damon, David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez and precision pitching of an injured Curt Schilling.
The curse — if that’s what it was — was finally broken in 2004. And in Boston, for the first time in four score and six years, they aren't saying "wait 'til next year."
Armstrong, 32, rode to victory despite a few crashes early on in the three-week-long cycling marathon.
With this year’s sixth victory, he surpassed four previous winners who had claimed the Tour de France title five times.
Armstrong, a Texan who only eight years ago was given less than a 50 percent chance of surviving testicular cancer that had spread to his brain and lungs, has been the reigning champion of the Tour since 1999.
His inspiring story has drawn many new fans to the Tour de France. His high standards in training and racing have challenged other aspiring Tour cyclists to perform better.
For a handful of members on the U.S. women’s soccer team who came to be dubbed "the Fab Five" (search), it was their final competition together before a few hung up their cleats. And they made the most of it, winning the gold medal at the Summer Olympics.
The five — the remaining players from the first World Cup championship team in 1991 who are now in their 30s — played in their last tournament together on Aug. 26 and beat Brazil, 2-1, in Athens.
Altogether, they have competed in 1,230 international matches as a team.
Hamm, Foudy and Fawcett planned to retire from the national team after the Olympics.
American swimmer Michael Phelps (search) matched the record for medals won in one Olympics — capturing eight in all, six golds and two bronzes at the Games in Athens.
But he won his eighth medal from the sidelines, because he gave up his spot on the men’s 400-meter medley relay team to another swimmer. Ian Crocker came in second place in the 100-meter butterfly, which Phelps won.
The U.S. team placed first in the medley relay, and all team members — whether they were in the water or not — were awarded gold medals.
Phelps fell short of the record of seven gold medals won by Mark Spitz (search) in the 1972 Munich Games — but he matched Spitz’s record of four individual golds.
Phelps also tied Soviet gymnast Aleksandr Dityatin's (search) record of eight medals in one Olympics, set at the boycotted 1980 Moscow Games.
See Editor's Note at the end of this story.
A 59-year-old Georgia great-grandmother who had her tubes tied found out she was pregnant with twins and is due to deliver this month. She’ll break a record set just last month by a 56-year-old New York woman who had twins.
Frances Harris (search) of Sylvester, Ga., didn’t know she was pregnant until she started gaining weight and craving grapes and apples, which she doesn’t normally yearn for. She went to her doctor and learned she was already four months along.
“They had to sit me down. I couldn’t even talk,” said Harris, the mother of five, grandmother of 14 and great-grandmother of six.
It was especially shocking news because she’d had her tubes tied 33 years ago after the birth of her youngest child.
She had her first child when she was 15 years old, and 44 years will separate her firstborn from the newborns. She and the babies’ father, who’d been divorced, plan to remarry before the twins' birth.
The woman believed to be the oldest to have twins is Aleta St. James, a single mother who turned 57 just days after her babies were born in New York City last month.
The oldest American woman to give birth to just one baby is Arceli Keh (search) of California, who was 63 when she had her daughter in 1996.
A 13-year-old National Spelling Bee contestant from Colorado drew gasps from the audience when he fainted and fell over during the finals, but a few seconds later managed to spell his word correctly.
Akshay Buddiga (search) of Colorado Springs collapsed onstage in the packed auditorium in June after being given the word “alopecoid,” but he stood up almost immediately and proceeded to spell it perfectly.
He was escorted offstage by a Spelling Bee employee and received medical treatment, but was given the go-ahead to return to the competition.
Akshay lost in the 15th round to 14-year-old David Tidmarsh, who correctly spelled "autochthonous" to win the event.
Showman Roy Horn (search), who was mauled last year by a tiger during a performance in Las Vegas, made a rare public appearance in August.
Horn, 59, suffered a stroke that left him partially paralyzed after a 380-pound tiger attacked him during a live "Siegfried & Roy" (search) show Oct. 3, 2003.
He went to the “Havana Night Club” revue at the Stardust showroom on the Las Vegas Strip in his wheelchair.
Horn attended the Cuban revue, backed by "Siegfried & Roy," after returning from a two-week stint at a Denver rehabilitation center for stroke and trauma victims.
Some might call his survival a miracle.
The illusionist was attacked by a 7-year-old tiger named Montecore during a live performance at The Mirage (search) hotel-casino.
The animal bit into Horn’s neck and dragged him off the stage. A show employee sprayed a fire extinguisher on the tiger in order to get the big cat to loosen his grip.
Horn’s heart stopped for about a minute and he had a near-death experience on the operating table. The stroke he had after the mauling left him with a speech impediment in the form of a lisp.
Horn has said the tiger was just trying to help him by carrying him away after he fainted onstage.
The successful “Siegfried & Roy” show closed after the attack.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Editor's Note: On January 4, 2005, the 59-year-old great-grandmother who claimed in an Associated Press story last year that she was pregnant with twins admitted that she was not.
Frances Harris' claim gained widespread attention after she and her family told her story the same week that a 56-year-old woman gave birth to twins in New York.
"To the surprise of even her family, it was recently discovered that Harris is not pregnant with twins," Harris said in a statement distributed by her 39-year-old son, Fred Jackson. "Due to some personal issues that are still being evaluated, Mrs. Harris believed that she was pregnant with twins and was able to convince her family and friends that she was expecting as well."
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