High Schooler Paralyzed During Football Game Draws Standing Ovation as He Walks at Graduation
A Pittsburgh high schooler who was paralyzed three years ago during a football game received a standing ovation at his high school graduation as he rose from his wheelchair and walked 10 yards to receive his diploma – much to the shock of his friends and classmates.
“That felt better than any touchdown I ever scored,” Hayden Hamilton told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette of the emotional response his walk received on Friday.
It was on the very same field at Laurel High School where Hayden graduated that his life changed forever when, as a sophomore on the football team, he was severely injured during a tackle on Aug. 31, 2018, according to the Post-Gazette.
Hayden, now 18, suffered a serious spinal injury during the incident, and was paralyzed from the neck down – but in the years since, has managed to break past his initial limitations, his therapist Ryan Lacey told the newspaper.
“He was told he wouldn’t be able to do certain things that he’s doing now,” Lacey said. “It’s a great story.”
Among those things was the impressive walk to receive his diploma, which Hayden did with Lacey by his side and with the help of leg braces and a walker with two wheels, the Post-Gazette reported.
It reportedly took the senior, who was voted Homecoming King in the fall, about two minutes to rise from his wheelchair and slowly walk the 10 yards to his diploma.
“I think it’s cool that I did this on the field where it all happened,” Hayden told the Post-Gazette. “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.”
Though Hayden’s parents Chad and Melissa had seen him walk (he sometimes walks up to 300 feet in therapy), graduation was the first time many – including his girlfriend, friends and former football teammates – saw the teen take steps of his own since that fateful night.
“We had no idea. I was shocked,” friend Kobe DeRosa told the Post-Gazette. “He deserved that standing ovation 100 percent.”
The emotional moment was captured on video by Post-Gazette reporter Mike White, who then shared it to Twitter. It has since been celebrated by stars like Mark Wahlberg and former Steelers player Ryan Shazier, who had to learn to walk again after he suffered a spinal cord injury during a game in 2017.
“Hayden this is amazing man I’m so proud of you,” Shazier wrote on Twitter.
As for what’s next, Hayden told the Post-Gazette he’ll likely take classes at Butler Community College in the fall with the hopes of one day attending a four-year college. But when it comes to walking, he’s content taking it one day at a time.
“When I was hurt, I was paralyzed from the neck down and I couldn’t even feed myself,” Hayden told the outlet. “I couldn’t do anything. I’m not worried about walking independently without a walker. I just want to make myself better every day.”