From explorer Ernest Shackleton who bravely endured two years trapped in Antarctica to Michael J. Fox, that wonderful ambassador of hope who stares debilitating, degenerative disease in the face and says: I won't let you take me under – our world is chalk full of warriors of optimism. I bet you're one of them – if only you can just BELIEVE it. Austin Hatch is one of them too.
If you don't know Austin's story – the tragedy and horror of it are easy to convey in a few sentences. In two separate airplane crashes, eight years apart – he lost five of his family members, including his parents and siblings. But he survived. Both times. The last crash left him with severe brain trauma and in a medically induced coma for two months. He was only 17.
Through a strong relationship with the father he lost, Austin cultivated a promising career in basketball, even at a young age. In fact, before the second plane crash, spending hours in the driveway playing 1-on-1 was how he and his father coped and grieved the loss of the people they loved most in this world. Austin was determined and he was good. Really good. So good that he signed to play for he and his family's beloved University of Michigan's basketball team – the very school his father rooted for and the one to which his late mother attended.
That second plane crash tried to rob him of the chance. He wouldn't let it. From hours upon hours and several months of intense and excruciating physical therapy and on the court training with some of the best therapists and basketball mentors out there, he reemerged – VICTORIOUS.
Today, Austin Hatch is in his Freshman year playing for the Wolverine's. And he is thriving. His story and his courageous journey have caught the attention of millions of people. He is a living, breathing, FIGHTING example of HOPE. On April 6, 2015 Austin Hatch will receive the U.S. Basketball Writers Association's Most Courageous Award for 2015. In the association's statement of why Mr. Hatch was chosen for such a prestigious honor, it said "Rather than be angry at what he's lost, Hatch instead prefers to celebrate what he's been given – a chance to honor his parents by becoming the man they dreamed he would be."
I was compelled to write this piece after watching an ESPN news segment on Mr. Hatch. In interviews with this incredibly poised young man, you can't help but see that it's true – he is impossibly determined and unbelievably positive.
He's seen more tragedy in less than two decades than most of us could even imagine in an entire lifetime. But the Victorious Spirit within him is iron clad. It won't let despair and hopeless win. While the adversity we face in life can and will take on different shapes and forms over the years, it is ALWAYS possible to face it, overcome it and soldier on. It works if you believe it and Austin Hatch is a perfect testament to that Truth.