Oct. 10, 2012
By Preslie Hirsch, Digital Communications Intern
ASU junior Cory Hahn has been living and breathing baseball his whole life. He got his first glove when he was 4 years old, started on a club team at just 9 and helped his team win a gold medal in the Junior Olympics during high school. He even won the Cal-Hi Sports Mr. Baseball award; one that’s been given to a list of talented men, eight of which are now in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Hahn grew up in California and moved to Tempe to continue his career for the Sun Devils, or at least he thought.
In the third game of his collegiate career in 2011, during the bottom of the first inning against New Mexico, Hahn broke for second base (his first attempt stealing a base while on the ASU roster) and in doing so collided headfirst with the second baseman’s knee. He was rushed off in an ambulance to the hospital where it was determined he had a burst fracture of the C5 vertebrae in his neck, leaving him paralyzed from mid-chest to his feet. His dad quit his job in California and moved to Tempe to assist Cory with activities many students take for granted like eating, getting dressed or getting to class on their own.
“Everything went wrong for that to happen, but it’s something I’m trying to overcome daily,” Hahn said.
It’s hard to imagine for anyone: the one thing you’ve spent the last almost two decades working on every day is ripped away in just one dive to second base. And although Cory’s body has changed, his attitude never has. Alongside suffering an extremely rare injury, Hahn has also drawn attention for his obvious positive mentality.
“It’s been a year and a half…it’s been very taxing mentally. It didn’t really click until I was out of the hospital. In there, everything is being given to you, nurses are helping with everything and rehab was going well,” Hahn said. “But back in the real world, I realized I have a decision to make. Either give up and absorb everything everybody did for me, or I can work hard and give it 100 percent every day and try to get better. I want to get better so I can gain my independence and I want to make a full recovery.”
Hahn continues to have high hopes for a full recovery because after all, the doctors at the hospital didn’t think he would accomplish nearly as much as he has thus far.
“It’s been tremendous progress. It’s very slow, and very small things. But in the world I live in now, those small things mean a lot. The initial part of the injury, I couldn’t move a single limb. Now a year and a half into it, I’m back at ASU, taking classes, I drive now, it’s awesome,” Hahn said. “There is a reason (this happened), I’m slowly figuring that out. My whole life I’ve been a part of baseball. I thought (before the accident) the way I’m going to influence the world one day is I’ll be a big leaguer and kids in the stands will tell me I’m their favorite player of all time. Now, after suffering this injury and seeing I still have a positive influence on the people around me even though I’m not playing; I’m still fulfilling what I want to do in life, which is effect people in a positive way.”
On a sunny Wednesday afternoon in early October, accompanied by his father, Hahn arrived in his wheelchair to the Miracle League Event: Pro’s vs. CEO’s wiffle ball game. It was a group of local adults from the respective categories playing to bring awareness to the league.
“Most of our parents did not expect to have children with disabilities,” said Steve Lee, the director of Miracle League Arizona. “Our athletes did not choose to have disabilities. Mr. Hahn's life was changed in an instant; it was not his choice. He did have to choose between shutting down and pressing on. His example is one that our families can relate to. His story is inspiring to many.”
In 2010, the Census reported about 2.8 million school-aged children in the U.S. have a physical disability, which often disqualifies them from normal activities like playing baseball. Established in 2006, the Miracle League of Arizona, based out of a beautiful facility in Northern Scottsdale, gives children with cognitive or physical disabilities the chance to enjoy the game of baseball. It’s completely free, run on donations by sponsors and the community. Buddies are assigned to each child; whether it is for moral support or assistance with swinging the bat. Equipment, jerseys, easily accessible restrooms, a safe and wheelchair friendly rubberized turf baseball field and organized team games are all provided to the players and their families through the league.
“Parents tell me often that their kids sleep in their jerseys the night before a game because they are so excited,” Lee said. “As parents, we spend much of the week as a buffer trying to limit the frustration and disappointment our kids face. To have a place where our children and family members are not only accepted and included, but also encouraged and celebrated, it means everything. Our community is strengthened when everyone is valued. Not only do our players and their families benefit, but the volunteers' lives are changed. When everyone is valued, our community is a much better place to live. A little encouragement can go a long way toward changing a life.”
It’s easy to see why Hahn visiting events like this one, is inspiring for the children who love baseball.
Hahn continually works on developing his motor skills and nervous system, and in the event he can walk again someday, he’ll be ready. He lives not far from campus with three other baseball players and plans to graduate on time from the W.P. Carey School of Business.
“I still get letters, stuff on Facebook and Twitter; people pulling for me who say I’m an inspiration,” Hahn said. “You never know what’s going to happen the very next day. I have a very optimistic outlook. The body heals in amazing ways. Five or 10 years from now it could be astronomical what I’m doing.”
As for the Miracle League of Arizona, it too is growing continuously. A playground has recently been added to the facility and a picnic area is in the works. They are always seeking more kids, families and volunteers to be involved, as the back of the league’s shirts read: “because everyone deserves the opportunity to play baseball.”
Visit www.mlaz.org for more information.