“Disabled, But Not Really”: Wesley Hamilton’s Mission
In January 2012, Wesley Hamilton was shot multiple times in the abdomen, suffering injuries that left him a paraplegic.
In November 2018, Hamilton met the man who shot him and thanked him on national television.
- “He tried to take my life, but instead he gave me life,” said Hamilton, now 32.
- “I have forgiven him. Had I not been shot, I would have ended up dead or in prison. I love everything about myself and none of that would have happened without him doing that to me,” he added.
One big thing: In the aftermath of the shooting, Hamilton founded a non-profit organization, Disabled But Not Really, that provides fitness and nutrition scholarships to those with a physical disability. Several of the scholarship recipients have gone on to become regular members of the gym with which he’s been partnered. Now, Hamilton is turning his attention to the disabled black community and is in the process of raising money to build his own gym for adaptive athletes.
Hamilton’s story: Hamilton grew up in east Kansas City, MO, in an area where both poverty and crime are high. His parents were separated and he and his two siblings were raised by their single mom.
- “I have a huge (extended) family, and people in the family were always dying left and right from gun violence or some kind of drug overdose, or they were getting locked up. So the energy around me was always negative,” he said.
- “A lot of them were overweight. Nobody was active really. We didn’t have many resources, so I grew up on the streets…It was a hopeless life, and I was OK with being dead or in jail by the age of 21. That’s what I saw as my fate because I never saw anything outside of what I saw in my community,” he continued. “I was a product of my environment.”
This also meant fitness and quality nutrition were nowhere to be seen. “Soul food. That’s what we ate. But I think we should just call it food because it’s the only food we knew,” he said. By the time he was in his early 20s, Hamilton was overweight, weighing 250 pounds at five-foot-four.
The fateful night: Hamilton was out with some friends when he and his girlfriend at the time got into an altercation.
- “There was a miscommunication and a misunderstanding. That’s the only way to describe it. We were having a dispute and I ended up getting shot,” he said, describing the origin of his spinal cord injury.
At the time, Hamilton had just gained full custody over his young daughter, so there he was, a full-time father, recently paralyzed and about to undergo six surgeries in the upcoming months, overweight and totally lost about what to do next.
After hitting rock bottom, Hamilton turned to his doctor and asked, “What can I do to take control of my life?”
- “I was tired of not being able to be active. I was tired of being on bed rest. I really wanted to do something for my life so I could be a better father,” he said.
- “My doctor told me to add more protein in my diet. I had no idea what protein was. I was like, ‘Is that something I can get from a double quarter pounder and cheese?’” he said, laughing.
His doctor suggested he drink Ensure. His reaction: “I’m trying to figure out my identity and where to go and you’re giving me a drink my grandma might drink?” Instead, Hamilton turned to a local community college and enrolled in a dietitian program.
- “The moment I opened books on nutrition, I fell in love with it. I had never learned this stuff before. I had no idea how much sugar there was in my Dr. Pepper every day. I didn’t want to drink Dr. Pepper no more,” he said. “So I started to transition the way I ate because I understood what food did for me,” he added.
The transformation: Three years after becoming a paraplegic, Hamilton had lost 100 pounds.
- “I had my last surgery and I was laying in this bed, but I felt real good. And all I had done was change my diet,” he said.
He took to social media and posted a picture of himself with a hashtag that described how he was feeling: #disabledbutnotreally.
- “People were like, ‘Oh man, that name has a kick to it,” he said. “And I realized I have to show people what disabled but not really means. I have to define this word that I want to push out to the world.”
But first, he needed to get fit. Hamilton stumbled across adaptive powerlifting and CrossFit and was immediately sold: “All of a sudden I’m not even thinking about the fact that I can’t use my legs anymore because I found myself doing things I couldn’t do before,” said Hamilton.
Hamilton’s message: Take accountability of your life and your health. This is what he hopes he can do through Disabled But Not Really.
- “I want to teach the world accountability. My actions and emotions played a role the day I got shot. I faced the man who shot me on national television and I allowed him to tell me why he shot me. And I understand his perspective at the time. I understand it because if the shoe had been on the other foot, I would have done the same,” he said.
And he’s hoping that through health and nutrition, young men like him will become products of a very different environment that he experienced growing up. He’s turning his attention to the disabled black community and is in the process of raising money to build a gym for adaptive athletes.
- “I want to help kids from black communities and teach them how to grow up both disabled and black,” he said.
- He added: “I want to help people who have been defeated in life. To create something that makes you feel positive. That’s really what Disabled But Not Really is. It’s my story. I know who I used to be and by far I’m not that person anymore, and I want to help others shift their mindset too.”
Donate here: Disabled But Not Really