LAMAR COUNTY, Ga. — Most day you can catch Willie Hamm at any Lamar County school, volunteering to help coach sports.
But, he's partial to Lamar County High and to track and field. He used to go to school there and he loved running track.
"1600 meter, 400 meters, 4x1, 4x4, anything that the coach needed me to do, that's what I did," Hamm said when reminiscing about his track days. "If coach needed me to sweep, I did that too."
Hamm would continue with his passion for running when he entered the U.S. Army and participated in their track and field program. He qualified for the 1980 Olympic team, but didn't make it to the games because then-President Jimmy Carter announced the country would boycott the games in Moscow.
There were many hurdles in Hamm's life, including a cancer diagnosis. But, never one quite so paralyzing as the 2009 car accident that injured his brain and spine.
"Split my head open to the brain, broke my neck and it injured the vertebrae to my spinal cord," he explained.
Hamm would become wheelchair-bound, but he doesn't really know the definition of quit or how to feel sorry for himself. So, in 2010, he started volunteering at Lamar County school, helping coach the kids.
"Everybody knows the man on the scooter," he joked.
And to this day, you can still catch him spinning around the field, pushing kids to do their best.
"It's a great motivator for the kids," said head track and field Coach James Hickenbotham. "You think about his story and everything he's been here and to see him to here doing what he does for the kids, it's just a great event every time he's out here."
Not one to push others and not himself, Hamm trained hard, to walk 50 meters in 2013. But, in 2019, he wanted to go farther, and this time, it meant even more to him to be able to do it at the Middle Georgia relays, the last home track meet at Lamar County.
"Not only that, we're moving it to a new facility next year. And now our high school is about to be demolished, so that's why I wanted this to be my last chance here, to show if I can do it, anyone can," he said.
By do anything, Hamm meant accomplishing the goal of walking a 200 meter race, in front of the kids, as a means to inspire them.
"If he can walk 200 meters, what is there excuse for not getting the things done that they need to on a daily basis," Hickenbotham said.
Hickenbotham went to the sidelines, telling everyone this race belonged to Mr. Hamm. And with the help of a few friends, and the entire track and field team behind him, Hamm got out of his scooter and started walking.
One step at a time, inching closer and closer to the finish line, kids, parents, friends and teachers cheered as he walked.
Sweat dripping from his brow, he shuffled along, occasionally saying "I'm almost there," or "I can do this." Halfway through, Hickenbotham grabbed his hand, interlaced fingers as Hamm continued on.
And we're happy to report, after 10 years of practice, after being told he would never walk again, Willie Hamm - Army veteran - completed his 200 meter race in 7 minutes and 8 seconds.
He got to the finish line, dropped to his knees, kissed the ground and began to cry.
With tears streaming down his face, Hamm said between heavy breaths, "Thank everyone of you. Thank you. 200 meters. 200 meters may not mean much to some of y'all. It took me 10 years to get to this point, and I pray that you all don't let anything stop you from achieving what your goals are," he encouraged. "It may not come overnight. It took 10 years for me to get to this point. Y'all are my family."
After drinking, walking, and getting back into his chair, like a true coach, Hamm immediately said, "Alright, now lets get back to work."
Hamm credits the Shepherd Center for helping him with his rehabilitation and the team there for helping his achieve his goal.