By Jourdan Rodrique
SDA Digital Communications Intern
Tempe, Arizona and its university is its own self-sustaining little world. Arizona State is the center of the hub. Every Saturday in the fall, a steady stream of cars with foam-fingered fans journey to the mecca-within-the-buttes where their boys play football under the lights. And on weekends in the spring, that routine shifts from the gridiron to the diamond.
Within the bubble of ASU and its surroundings, stories are told and retold about Jeff van Raaphorst’s Rose Bowl win or the time Mitch Jones hit for the cycle against Arizona. They also tell of the day Cory Hahn’s life changed after he slid into second base.
They tell how it was his first weekend as a Sun Devil Baseball player, how they saw him take off from first base and dive headfirst, how his head crashed into the knee of the New Mexico second baseman, how he lay there in the dirt, how he looked so terribly still. They tell how surreal it was that this vibrant, sunshine-haired surfer boy that was going to undoubtedly play in the majors and who would rather sprint than sit still, could be held motionless.
“I was fully conscious and aware of what was happening,” Hahn said. “It will never lose its clarity to me. It’ll always be fresh. Whenever I tell it, it will be important to me. Once the injury happened, everything I’d wanted to do was put on hold.”
Hahn suffered a spinal injury that paralyzed him from the chest down. It’s been more than three years since then, which is over 1,000 days of fighting against his own body and mind to remain who he is.
In a few days, Hahn will graduate from Arizona State, and so will those students who grew with him, some directly and some indirectly. As they exit the bubble of college, they’ll take their stories with them and remember their heroes. It’s infrequent that college heroes remain as such when they leave the campus that knows them so well, because it’s easy to forget that the football stars and home run kings that walk among the students are students. The real world is the ultimate equalizer, but there’s something different about Hahn that makes you remember his name.
Maybe it’s how he talks about winning little victories.
“It’s crazy to think about, but when I first got hurt, all I could do was talk and breathe and move my head a little,” Hahn said. “And then I could eat on my own, which was huge because I was so embarrassed to go out in public and have my friends or family members help me eat. I decided that needed to change.”
Maybe it’s how he has already proved the experts wrong.
“Being able to drive again was not something I was supposed to be able to do, but I can now,” Hahn said. “That was a goal that was out of my reach. In the hospital, I couldn’t move anything. All I could do was shrug my shoulders a little. And slowly, I started to get a little bit of movement back in my arms, and over time I was able to get some good arm movement and a little wrist movement back. “
Maybe it’s how he has spent the past year living a “normal” college life in a clearly abnormal situation.
“I’m staying in my own place now. I’m able to use my phone and computers, I can write a little bit now,” Hahn said. “I used to be really proud of my writing and so now that it’s mostly legible again it’s pretty cool. In the eyes of the world these are all small achievements but in my mind, they’re astronomical.”
One of his favorite victories came from a task as simple as making his own dinner.
“I was hungry and it was late and usually my dad would come over and help me make my food, but it was late, so I said ‘Screw it, I’m going to make a quesadilla,’” he said. “And I did! And I was so proud. I called my family and friends just to tell them I made a quesadilla. Little things like that make me so happy.”
And it’s only the little triumphs that matter, because it’s not as if Hahn decided to become this noble hero, a champion for those who face adversity, an icon at Arizona State. As the saying goes, some men have greatness thrust upon them. He doesn’t ask to be a symbol of strength through hard times, he just is. Because he would rather live his life the way he wants than pity himself and because he has characteristics such as leadership, kindness, drive and competitiveness. He possessed these virtues prior to his injury and has continued to be who he’s always been, and that has shone through all the clearer when such a life-changing accident happened to him. By all rights, he had no reason to stay so positive all the time.
“Yeah I could look at it and say ‘Oh, this sucks,’ and do nothing,” he said. “Regardless of what I do, life goes on. So I could sit around and feel sorry for myself all day or I could go out and be with my friends and live my life and do the things I still want to do. I’ve worked hard my whole life, so I’m going to work hard in this. Yeah, I’ve been given a tough hand, a really tough hand. I’m like everyone else and I have my days when I’m really pissed off. But I’m alive.”
Maybe we’ll remember his name because he is so determined to walk again. In fact, he knows he will walk again. Maybe we’ll click on a headline someday that reads “Hahn becomes first to regain mobility after paralysis” or maybe an ASU alum will see him walking down the street and grab their friend or kid and say, “That’s that guy I told you about, that’s Cory Hahn.”
“I will walk again,” he said. “If I didn’t think I was going to, I’d be the first to tell you I wouldn’t walk again. But I will be the first to tell you I will. Doctor’s said I could never drive again, and I’m driving. So I can do anything I put my mind to, or at least try it. It could be tomorrow or in 10 years, but I’ll get there.”
Once Hahn graduates, he will forever be a part of ASU’s history and a part of the mission the Athletics Department especially strives to uphold: tradition, excellence and unrelenting strength and courage.
He laughs when he’s asked about the legacy he’ll leave behind at ASU, because while those around him know it’s an important one, he offers a more simple suggestion as to what he’s leaving behind.
“I just like to think I’ve been a good friend, a hard worker, a good son, and a good student who graduated in four years after getting hurt,” he said.
Others will certainly tell his story differently. They’ll use words like “incredible” or “inspiring” or “relentless” and he’ll read about them with mild discomfort because he’s just being who he is, who he’s always been.
“Maybe leading up to the injury and after the injury I’ve had two different lives,” he said. “But I’m still the same person. I’m still the same kid.”
Hahn sits in his chair in the media workroom in the Carson Student-Athlete Center. His hands are slowly gaining back their mobility and though his fingers involuntarily curl inward, he uses them expressively when he talks. Even while forced to be still, he’s moving. We talk about graduation and about the real world, and what comes next after leaving a town where everyone knows his name.
I tell him I’m going to try something different, out of curiosity. I’ll say a word, and he’ll say the first word that pops into his head.
“Whatever you need to do,” he laughs, laid-back as usual.
“Pencil,” I say.
“Autographs,” he laughs.
“The love of my life.”
He doesn’t miss a beat.