- Hayden Hamilton was left paralyzed from the neck down three years ago after suffering a spinal injury while playing football for the Laurel Spartans in Pittsburgh.
- Earlier this week, Hayden received a standing ovation at his high school graduation as he walked to receive his diploma.
- Hayden said being able to walk again and receiving the emotional response “felt better than any touchdown I ever scored.”
Hayden Hamilton received a standing ovation during his high school graduation on Friday when he walked to receive his diploma.
Why was that special?
The Laurel High School student was paralyzed three years ago during a football game. For his friends, classmates, and all those who attended the ceremony, it was a shock to see Hayden rose from his wheelchair and walked 10 yards.
“That felt better than any touchdown I ever scored,” the Pittsburgh high school student told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette of the touching response his walk received that moment.
Hayden was severely injured during a tackle on Aug. 31, 2018, when he was just a sophomore on the football team.
The incident caused his serious spinal injury. He was paralyzed from the neck down. According to is therapist Ryan Lacey, Hayden managed to break past his initial limitations in the years since.
“He was told he wouldn’t be able to do certain things that he’s doing now,” Ryan said. “It’s a great story.”
Hayden, now 18, walked to receive his diploma with Lacey by his side and with the help of leg braces and a walker with two wheels.
According to the Post-Gazette, it took Hayden about two minutes to rise from his wheelchair and walk the 10 yards.
“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 touching moment was captured on video by Post-Gazette reporter Mike White. It has since been celebrated by stars like Mark Wahlberg since White shared the video on Twitter.
Former Steelers player Ryan Shazier also made an encouraging message. Shazier 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.
So, what’s next for Hayden?
He told the newspaper he’ll likely take classes at Butler Community College. He’s hoping to attend a four-year college someday. By the way, he’s voted Homecoming King in the fall.
“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.”