Stories

This High Schooler Was the Star of the Football Field Before His Life Changed in an Instant

Do you look back on your high school days with fond memories and a smile on your face? Whether you loved every second you spent with your friends, you felt proud of your perfect grades, or you enjoyed the comradery of team sports, your high school years were probably fun and carefree. And it’s fair to say that Hayden Hamilton felt the same. Until everything changed.

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Image: New Castle News

Before a terrible incident in 2018, Hayden was enjoying his high school years like the rest of his classmates. He was the star of the football field and everyone knew he had a bright future ahead of him. Then, his life was turned upside down in an instant. And suddenly normal rites of passage like homecoming and graduation hung in the balance. He had no idea if he would even survive, but how he pulled through and defied the odds will bring you to tears.

Before 2018, Hayden Hamilton Was Just Living a Normal Life With His Loving Family

To truly understand the magnitude of Hayden’s courageous journey, we have to know a little more about the young man himself. Although he is now 18 years old, his story begins just before August 2018, when he was just a regular 15-year-old teenager living a normal life with his family in Harlansburg, Pennsylvania.

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Image: Facebook/Chad Hamilton

Hayden lived with his mom who worked as an assistant manager at a retail store, his steelworker father, and his younger sister – plus their dogs, of course. And like many teenagers in the US and across the globe, Hayden split his time between family life and his school life. Then, in between, he squeezed in his intense passion for sports.

As a Child, Hayden Had Always Gravitated Towards Sport and Grew up Wrestling and Playing Football

When Hayden was a youngster, his parents could see that their son loved being active. He was happiest when he was running around or playing with the neighborhood kids, and he always gravitated towards sports that allowed him to pursue this part of his personality. Naturally, his parents encouraged this active lifestyle, and they loved watching him succeed in various after-school adventures.

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Image: Facebook/Melissa Hamilton

Hayden was particularly fond of wrestling and playing football, and every day he could be found training or hanging out with his teammates. Sport was ingrained into his soul and a huge part of his lifestyle. But as his parents watched each match from the sidelines they had no idea that this sporting journey would take them down a path of heartbreak and leave their son fighting for his life.

It Was Clear for Everyone To See That He Was a Natural Football Player, and He Was the Star of the Field

While attending Laurel High School, Hayden became even more involved in the football team – and while wrestling was still at the back of his mind, his true love lay on the football field. Everyone who saw the young linebacker and defensive saw that his face lit up every time he made his way onto the field, and it was clear to see that he was a natural through and through.

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Image: Facebook/Melissa Hamilton

During these years, his whole family knew that a career in football could have really been on the cards. He played for the Spartans and was a Spartan through and through – and so were his parents. They attended every single game and his mom even sold jerseys from the sidelines while his dad and sister watched from the bleachers. They were so proud of him.

Hayden Loved Being a Spartan, but He Was Not Oblivious to the Fact That Football Pushed His Body to the Limits

Years passed and Hayden continued to grow as part of the Laurel High School Spartans. He became a key member of the team and loved the comradery that existed between the whole squad. They all pushed themselves to be the best; not only physically, but also mentally.

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Image: Facebook/Chad Hamilton

However, Hayden knew that football came with its risks. Every practice and every game required him to push his body to the limits, and this often left him feeling tired and broken. To begin with, this was something that could be dealt with. But when his world was turned upside down he began to rethink his whole life, and his mental intelligence and experience of the sport became the only thing he could rely on.

Hayden Knew That Football Injuries Were Common but He Soon Realized That One Injury Was All It Took To Change Your Life

Anyone who plays sport knows that injuries are common. And that’s exactly why the Spartan football team at Laurel High School made sure that the players were stretched before every game and trained hard to prevent these injuries from happening. But nothing can stop this completely, and this was something the players all had to live with. Even Hayden.

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Image: Facebook/Chad Hamilton

And Hayden did injure himself many times throughout his football career. He could shake many of them off and continue with the game, but today he has one regret that he won’t forget for the rest of his life. His biggest regret is that he continued to play a game with a shoulder injury. If he had stayed at home and rested his shoulder, he would have missed the game that changed his life forever…

In 2018, Hayden Dislocated His Shoulder During a Game but Popped It Back in and Continued Playing

Hayden suffered this shoulder injury at the beginning of a football contest in 2018. He felt his shoulder pop out of the socket and he knew that it would cost him the game if he made a fuss. So, he popped his dislocated shoulder back in and continued with the game. He was a Spartan, and he wanted to help his team to victory.

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Image: Facebook/Melissa Hamilton

However, this was not the injury that left him fighting for survival. Hayden believes that this shoulder injury is what ultimately caused the chain of events that left him in uncharted territory with nowhere to turn. And he told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that “If anything, I blame myself for staying in [after the shoulder injury].” But he also knew that staying in the content was “just who I am.”

Shortly After Hayden’s Shoulder Injury, He Was Involved in Another Terrifying Incident on the Football Field

August 31, 2018, was the day that Hayden’s life changed forever. With a football game to get ready for, Hayden donned his jersey and got himself mentally prepared to take on the competition. And while the game started off on the right foot, his friends, family, and classmates soon watched in horror as he was involved in a terrifying accident.

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Image: The Epoch Times

Hayden recounted this incident to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. He noted that “I read toss play to the running back. I was trying to fight off a block with one arm. I waited to see which way the running back would go. I saw him cut inside, so I just dove. But I dove a little too high. He tried to, like, hurdle me, his knee hit my head.” And in an instant, everyone watching the game fell silent as they saw Hayden tumble to the floor.

As Onlookers Watched the Incident Unfold, the Whole Stadium Went Silent and They Had No Idea if Hayden Was Alright

While those who watched the Laurel High School football games were used to players being knocked down, they could see that the incident with Hayden was different. He immediately fell to the floor like a rag doll and the whole stadium went quiet. Hayden’s father watched the whole thing unfold in front of his eyes, but his mom hadn’t even realized what had happened…

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Image: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

That’s because his mom was busy selling jerseys at the side of the field, and while she noticed the whole place go quiet during the third quarter, she didn’t know anything had happened to her own son until the mother of another player rushed to her and gave her a hug. At that moment, his mom knew something was wrong – especially when she saw her husband rushing down the stands to the field.

Hayden Didn’t Know What Was Going on Himself Until He Heard the Medical Helicopter Flying Above Him

When a short time went by and Hayden didn’t make any attempt to get off the floor, his parents and everyone else in the stadium knew that he wasn’t alright. Hayden had been hurt before and always brushed himself off in order to get back on with the game – but this time was different. Hayden couldn’t move at all.

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Image: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

And as he lay on the ground, Hayden just assumed that maybe he had a concussion. But even he didn’t really know what was going on or why he couldn’t move his body. It wasn’t until he heard the sounds of a medical helicopter above him that he realized the situation was incredibly serious. And suddenly, he felt scared.

As Hayden Was Carted off the Football Field on a Stretcher, He Knew His Life Would Never Be the Same

Before he knew it, Hayden was being taken off the football field on a stretcher towards the medical helicopter. He began to understand that his collision with another player had obviously injured his body in some way, so he tried to gauge each of his limbs in an effort to understand where he was hurt. It was then that he realized he couldn’t feel anything at all.

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Images: Facebook/Chad Hamilton

Hayden had absolutely no feeling from his mouth down, and he couldn’t feel any part of his body. He remembers seeing everyone’s faces looking down at him with apprehension, and while he was scared for his life and his body he didn’t want anyone to worry. He even asked one of his football trainers to take his hand and make it into a thumbs-up position so he could reassure the crowd that he was ok – even though he wasn’t.

Even in the Helicopter Hayden’s Mom Didn’t Quite Realize How Serious His Injuries Were Going To Be

No parent wants to see their child being taken off on a stretcher and placed into a medical helicopter, and it was incredibly traumatizing for Hayden’s mom and dad to watch. But even in that moment Hayden’s mom didn’t realize what was in store for her son, his life, his career, and their whole family.

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Images: Facebook/Chad Hamilton

Hayden’s mom, Melissa Hamilton, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that “Honestly, in the helicopter ride to the Children’s Hospital, I still thought it was just a stinger and he’ll be fine. When we got to the hospital and there were about 50 hospital people waiting for him, I knew it was serious.” But how serious it was soon became apparent.

Hayden Had Nine-Hour Surgery the Next Day, but Was Told That He Would Be Paralyzed for the Rest of His Life

The hordes of doctors and nurses waiting for Hayden at the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC were waiting there for a reason. The incident had been catastrophic, and the football star was severely injured. As soon as they could, the hospital team took the youngster into surgery and performed a nine-hour operation in order to do the best they could with a bad situation.

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Image: Facebook/Chad Hamilton

However, Hayden and his family were soon told that the injuries to his C4 and C5 vertebrae were just too severe for them to fix. And the youngster himself has noted that “originally, doctors told me I’d be paralyzed from the neck down.” But Hayden wasn’t someone who gave up. After all, he hadn’t even attended homecoming and had his high school graduation to look forward to.

While Hayden Could Have Wallowed in This Life-Changing News, He Wanted To Prove the Doctors Wrong

Hayden immediately had to make use of a wheelchair to get around. And while he could have wallowed in the fact that he was paralyzed and that his life would never be the same, that wasn’t him. Hayden always loved to find the positive in each situation, and although he knew he would never play football again, he tried to keep his head up.

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Image: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

His mom, Melissa, also knew this about her son. She noted that “There wasn’t a lot of hope at first. It was cut and dry… But he loves proving people wrong. He knew that he could have just resigned to his position and fell into a depression, but he didn’t want to do that. He was still young, and he had so much to live for. So he was going to try and get better.” And so he got started straight away.

Hayden Worked Extra Hard in Physical Therapy as He Knew in His Heart That He Could Reverse His Paralysis

While the doctors had told Hayden that he would most likely be paralyzed for the rest of his life, the football star and his family learned that a small percentage of paralyzed patients do reverse the symptoms and regain feeling in their bodies. And Hayden knew in his heart that he could do the same. But he also knew he would have to work hard to get there.

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Image: Facebook/Melissa Hamilton

So, he spent a few months in a physical therapy rehabilitation clinic at The Children’s Home of Pittsburgh & Lemieux Family Center after his operation. He stayed there for three months, working hard with experts and trainers in order to strengthen his muscles and train his body back into action. And amazingly, the more he tried the more he succeeded, and he began to regain feeling in his body…

After Some Intense Therapy, Hayden Started To Regain Feeling and Movement in His Arms and Hands

Although Hayden had always remained positive throughout his physical therapy journey, there was a little niggle at the back of his mind that wondered whether it was worth it. Would he really be able to reverse his paralysis? At the very least, he needed to try. But he was over the moon when he started to regain feeling and movement in his arms and legs.

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Image: Facebook/Chad Hamilton

Although he was still in a wheelchair unable to walk, he was making progress and defying all odds at the same time. He was finally able to give his dad a handshake with a strong, firm grip, and it was the push that he needed to continue his physical therapy journey. He had a big event coming up, and he’d come up with a plan that would leave everyone speechless.

Hayden Had Worried His Football Team Would Forget About Him, but They All Rallied Around Him and Stayed as Close as Ever

While Hayden grew up loving sport and the physical activity that came with it, it was the comradery of football that really made him happy. And that’s why he was worried that his football team would ditch him when they learned that he would never be able to play again and that he would probably be wheelchair-bound for the rest of his life.

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Image: Facebook/Chad Hamilton

But this didn’t happen at all. Since his accident, the whole team and the whole of Laurel High School have rallied around Hayden. They have set up fundraisers, they have held vigils, and they even threw him a welcome home party when he left the hospital. In fact, most weekends around 15-20 members of the football team make their way to Hayden’s house to hang out with him. Leaving him out of their lives didn’t even cross their minds.

His Friends and Classmates Always Made Hayden Feel Included, and This Was No Different At Homecoming

When he learned the extent of his injuries, Hayden told himself that he would always look on the bright side of life. And with friends and classmates like his, they have made this easier than ever. They have always made him feel welcome and included, and they haven’t treated him any differently from how they did before the accident.

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Image: New Castle News

Hayden’s bravery and his mental and physical strength were not lost on his peers, and while they had no idea how he was getting through his days, they knew he deserved to be rewarded. So, when they attended their homecoming dance they made sure that Hayden felt comfortable. And they also made sure that a very special surprise was ready and waiting for him…

Hayden Was Surprised When He Was Voted Homecoming King but He Had an Even Bigger Surprise up His Sleeve

As his high school days passed him by, Hayden was looking forward to the big milestones that he was still going to be able to experience. First up was homecoming, and he was excited to get dressed up with his date and to hang out with his friends for the evening. But what he didn’t expect was to be voted Homecoming King!

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Image: Facebook/Chad Hamilton

As he sat with a crown atop his head, Hayden couldn’t believe his luck. Not only had he survived his football accident but he was also getting better each day. It was one of the best days of his life and he was happier than he had ever been, but he knew there was another event coming along – and he had a surprise of his own in-store. He just didn’t know if he would be able to pull it off.

As Hayden Enjoyed His Homecoming Dance, He Began To Think About His Graduation Ceremony and Receiving His Diploma

As 2021 came around, Hayden had already been in his wheelchair for around three years – and he was still riding on the high of his homecoming surprise. He was still continuing to progress in his physical therapy sessions and he was constantly beating the odds and impressing his trainers. So, he began to think about his upcoming high school graduation ceremony.

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Image: Facebook/Chad Hamilton

In fact, Hayden told himself that he would do something special when it came to accepting his mighty piece of paper. But he wanted to keep the whole thing a secret and he didn’t want to say a word to his teachers or classmates. This was something he needed to perfect to really pull off… but would he be able to do it?

Hayden’s Parents Were Happy To See Him Taking a Few Steps, but He Wanted To Walk Even Further on His Graduation Day

Hayden wanted to walk just a few steps by the time his graduation ceremony came around, but he knew this wouldn’t be easy. He had once been told that he would never walk again, but he had faith that if he worked hard and put in the effort he would be able to ditch his wheelchair for a short while. And his parents were over the moon.

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Image: Facebook/Chad Hamilton

While his mom and dad often attended his physical therapy sessions, they didn’t see everything he got up to. So, while they had seen him take a few steps – around 300-feet – with the help of his trainers and therapists, they had never seen him walk any longer than that. They didn’t want him to push himself too quickly, but Hayden was determined as the big day was getting closer and closer.

Amazingly, Hayden Ditched His Wheelchair and Walked at His Graduation Ceremony To Receive His Diploma

When the day finally came, Hayden proved to everyone that sheer determination and hard work can really pay off. After months of therapy, he had achieved what he set out to do – with the help of his physical therapy team, of course. And so, three years after being paralyzed, he ditched his wheelchair and walked to collect his high school diploma!

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Image: People

While Hayden did require the use of a frame and leg braces, the happiness and the pride on his face was undeniable. He had gone through such an ordeal over the years and it had often been a struggle to stay strong throughout. But he did it, and he not only had a diploma to his name, but he also had another big achievement under his belt.

Nobody Knew He Was Going To Walk at His Graduation, and It Came as a Complete Surprise to Everyone

All in all, it took Hayden around two minutes to walk the 10 yards from his wheelchair to his principal. And those two minutes were incredibly hard work – but they were so worth it. Hayden had never walked so much before, but the excitement of the day took over and he knew he had to succeed for himself, his family, and his friends.

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Image: People

Thankfully, his leg braces and the walker frame were there to help him, but they weren’t the only ones there to spur him on. As his girlfriend, his parents, his sister, his football teammates, and all the other graduates looked on, they helped him every step of the way. They were shocked beyond belief, and they showed this shock in the most incredible way.

Hayden’s Classmates Were so Shocked To See Him Walk That They All Gave Him a Tearful Standing Ovation

Hayden knew in himself that he was going to walk the whole ten yards, but the difficult process became even easier when he saw how the stadium of onlookers and classmates reacted to his first steps. They knew that he deserved every achievement that came his way, which is why they all stood up, gave him a standing ovation, and wiped emotional tears from their eyes.

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Image: Facebook/Melissa Hamilton

Everyone who saw him knew that he deserved such a special moment, and his friend Kobe DeRose spoke to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette about the incredible scene in front of him. He noted that his walk came as a complete surprise and that “We had no idea. I was shocked. He deserved that standing ovation 100 percent.”

What Made His Graduation Walk Even More Special Was the Fact That It Took Place Next to the Football Field

The high school graduate was incredibly proud of himself as he stood with his diploma in hand, and he has noted that the whole experience “felt better than any touchdown I ever scored.” This was mainly due to the fact that the graduation ceremony took place just to the side of the football field where the accident happened almost three years ago.

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Image: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Hayden spoke to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette about this location. He confessed that “I think it’s cool that I did this on the field where it all happened. I just wanted to be able to walk off that field again because. I never got to do it that night [of the injury]. I’d say that was the main goal, to walk off that field once more.”

Hayden’s Momentous Occasion Was Captured on Camera and Became a Viral Sensation Online

Many people have followed Hayden’s story since his accident back in 2018, and they have been eager to keep up with his progress. Because of this, Hayden’s graduation walk was captured on camera and posted for all of his fans to see. However, he never expected it to become a viral sensation.

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Image: Facebook/Melissa Hamilton

When Mike White, a reporter for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette posted the video to his Twitter account, it instantly blew up. At the time of writing it has over 1,400 retweets and almost 10,000 likes! And because of this, it caught the attention of celebrities like actor Mark Wahlberg and football player Ryan Shazier, who all congratulated the youngster for his incredible achievements.

Hayden Hopes That He’ll Soon Be Heading off to College and That He’ll Regain Even More Movement in His Body

In just three years, Hayden Hamilton has been a football star, paralyzed teen, homecoming king, high school graduate, and an inspiration to all. And while his life changed dramatically in an instant, the smile has never wavered from his face – and his determination is still as strong as ever.

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Image: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

In fact, Hayden now hopes to take classes at Butler Community College before hopefully making his way to a four-year college in a few year’s time. For now, he’s focusing on making his body as strong as possible and taking his recovery one day at a time. While he would love to one day be able to walk unaided and on his own, he’s making sure to go at his own pace.

Hayden Is Now Focusing on Making Himself “Better Every Day” While Enjoying What Life as a Teenager Has To Offer

Hayden is happy to take life a little slower than some of his classmates as he knows he’s been through an ordeal, but he’s also aware that he has come so far over just a few years. Because of this, he’s not too worried about what the future has to hold. For now, he’s just enjoying his life as a teenager.

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Image: Facebook/Chad Hamilton

He has confessed that “When I was hurt, I was paralyzed from the neck down and I couldn’t even feed myself. I couldn’t do anything. I’m not worried about walking independently without a walker. I just want to make myself better every day.” And we truly believe that there are great things on the horizon for this incredible teen!