Like many college freshmen Chris Hammer, ’09 wasn’t certain where his life would lead. He chose to major in mathematics and secondary education thinking it was a safe bet. But he knew he was meant for something more. Today, Hammer is a Paralympic athlete, an athletic coach, and a master’s graduate. And he accomplished all this with one hand.
During his undergraduate studies, Hammer ran cross country for GVSU. His enthusiasm helped bring the team nine conference championship victories and finished on the podium in the top four teams at nationals, twice. Hammer himself was individually named All-American five times. While these triumphs helped him progress in his career as an athlete, Hammer insists that the teamwork he felt at Grand Valley is what helped him succeed in finding his passion for sports.
“The best memories are of the everyday grind: Just getting together on a daily basis to train our butts off together; knowing we did all the work together and we had each other's backs,” he said. “It is like a brotherhood.”
After graduation, Hammer accepted a one-year teaching position in Denver so he and future wife Amy Hammer, ’10 packed up and moved to Colorado. After making progress with the students in and outside the classroom, Hammer was exhausted and still apathetic about teaching.
“I just wasn't passionate about being a teacher,” he said. “I did not want to be one of those teachers in twenty years that hates his job. That's not fair to the students or yourself.”
After much soul searching, Hammer knew his heart was in coaching and athletics. Looking back, his choice to focus on education was an indirect way to pursue this passion.
“I was ultimately thinking that I would be a high school teacher so that I could coach the school's cross-country and track teams.”
But there was one problem. Other than running track for Grand Valley, he had little experience in the coaching field. Worried that he wouldn’t succeed, he remembered something his father had told him: “Money isn't everything; you have to do what makes you happy, because that is what really matters.” Heeding this advice, Hammer threw caution to the wind and enrolled in graduate school at Eastern Washington University in Cheney, Washington. There, he not only earned his masters of science in physical education, he was also awarded a graduate assistantship in the sports administration program and volunteered as a coach for the cross-country and track teams. And thanks to a victory in the 1,500-meter run at the U.S. Paralympic Trials, he was also training to be a United States Paralympic athlete.
“Representing your country is one of the proudest experiences I believe anyone can ever have,” he said. “So putting on that USA singlet is the biggest motivator for me. And trying to be the fastest one-handed man on the planet. That would be pretty cool too.”
The 2012 Summer Paralympic Games will take place from August 29 to September 9 but will not be aired in the U.S. Hammer will compete in the Men's Division T-46 800 meter, 1500 meter, and marathon events.
Whatever happens in London, Hammer doesn’t plan on slowing down. He says that he will continue with his work at Eastern Washington University and hopes to pursue his PhD.
Updated Spring 2012.