Hahn busier than ever 3 years after spinal cord injury

TEMPE, Ariz. — As graduation season approaches at Arizona State, there’s surely a good number of seniors caught up in the hustle and bustle of their final undergraduate days. It’s unlikely, though, that any of them are as busy as Cory Hahn, who has so much going on that it’s amazing he finds time for an interview.

Hahn, a 22-year-old former ASU baseball player who was paralyzed by an on-field incident in 2011, has quite a bit on his plate these days, and he relishes it.

"It’s a good thing!" Hahn says with a smile on a particularly warm April day at Packard Stadium, where more than three years ago he was paralyzed from the chest down after suffering a fractured C5 vertebrae while stealing second base.

In addition to his impending graduation with a degree from the W.P. Carey School of Business, Hahn is juggling roles with the ASU baseball team, the Arizona Diamondbacks and, most recently, the Wings for Life World Run.

It’s the Wings for Life run that Hahn is most excited about at the moment. He recently became an ambassador for the event, which benefits spinal cord research through the nonprofit Wings for Life Foundation.

"This event is such an important event to me," Hahn said. "It means a lot personally because, as someone who deals with paralysis first-hand every day, seeing people and organizations doing things to raise not only awareness of spinal cord injuries but also raising money for research into spinal cord injuries means a lot to me and my family."

The run will take place in 35 locations spanning six continents on Sunday, May 4, with each run beginning simultaneously. Hahn will be at the run in Santa Clarita, Calif., which starts at 3 a.m. local time, or 4 a.m. in Denver, 6 a.m. in Sun Rise, Fla., noon in Cape Town, South Africa, 6 p.m. in Busselton, Australia, and so on.

But this isn’t your typical race. In fact, there’s no finish line. Here’s how it works: A half-hour after runners leave the starting line, "catcher cars" will leave from the same spot traveling 9.3 mph. Once the car, which increases speed hourly, catches up to a runner, his or her race is over, giving each runner a unique finish line.

Hahn was first contacted about helping to promote the race by representatives from Red Bull, whose founder, Dietrich Mateschitz, founded Wings for Life. Hahn says that after learning about the foundation and the race, getting involved was a no-brainer.

"I kind of sat down and said, ‘Look, guys: Whatever you need me to do is no problem,’" Hahn said.

Organizers expect around 40,000 runners worldwide. About 1,500 are expected in Santa Clarita.  The event will be streamed live on wingsforlifeworldrun.com, and individuals can make donations at wingsforlife.com.

I’m doing anything I can to help whenever I can. I’m also there to be kind of moral support, getting guys through if they’re struggling or something. Anything I can do to help the team win is what I do. Obviously I’m not on the field helping them win physically, but I do whatever I can off the field.

Cory Hahn on role with ASU baseball team

Ten days after the race, Hahn will take part in commencement ceremonies at ASU, reaching a personal milestone he never thought possible.

"When I came to ASU, my plan was three years and I’m out," Hahn said. "That was the plan: Get your three years here and go play pro ball, and then school is to be determined.

"Once I got hurt, school was the last thing on my mind."

Hahn’s injury came in just his third collegiate game, when his head hit the knee of the opposing second baseman on his slide. He spent 75 days in the hospital, most of it rehabbing. Eventually, as Hahn gained more and more independence while being confined to a wheelchair, the idea of returning to ASU moved to the forefront of his mind.

In 2012, Hahn returned to campus to take a shot at finishing his degree. Though there were concerns about how the effort would go given Hahn’s limitations, it quickly became apparent it could be done.

"I didn’t think returning to school was going to be an option," Hahn said. "Then, when I was able to successfully be out here and do all that stuff, I started to realize, ‘OK, there’s a chance I can get this done and get it done in four years.’"

Returning to campus also allowed Hahn to return to the ASU baseball team, for which he was named a student coach. Hahn doesn’t travel with the team due to academic obligations and the added challenge of traveling in a wheelchair, but he attends every home game and offers his help in any way possible.

"I’m doing anything I can to help whenever I can," Hahn said. "I’m also there to be kind of moral support, getting guys through if they’re struggling or something. Anything I can do to help the team win is what I do. Obviously I’m not on the field helping them win physically, but I do whatever I can off the field."

Hahn is also busy figuring out his future in baseball. The Diamondbacks selected Hahn in the 34th round of last year’s MLB First-Year Player Draft, promising to find a full-time role for him within the organization after he graduates.

The Diamondbacks selected Cory Hahn in the 34th round of the 2013 draft.

The Diamondbacks have more than kept their word, checking in on Hahn regularly to make sure he’s on track to graduate and inviting him to shadow employees in different parts of the organization. Hahn has spent time learning about scouting, baseball operations and player development. So far, he says, baseball operations have intrigued him most, but more than anything, he’s been blown away by the D-backs’ commitment to his future.

"It’s been unbelievable," Hahn said. "It just shows the type of organization they are and the type of people that exist within that organization. … They’ve honored their commitment, and it just shows that they genuinely want me to be a part of that organization."

All that is on top of Hahn’s relentless rehabbing, which since the injury has allowed him to drive a van customized for his wheelchair, return to ASU and live on his own with teammates. Hahn rehabs in California and Arizona regularly, doing what he can to keep his body healthy and fight muscle atrophy.

Hahn also does progressive rehab with electrical stimulation and treadmills in hopes that they will one day "wake up" his body. Hahn was encouraged recently by a breakthrough in electrical stimulation at the University of Louisville that helped multiple victims of spinal cord injuries regain voluntary movement in paralyzed extremities.

Such a breakthrough, Hahn says, could hardly have come at a better time. As he and the Wings for Life Foundation push to raise money for spinal cord research, there’s now a tangible example at which to point.

"Like everything else, people tend to look at research like, ‘If they haven’t found anything yet, is it ever going to happen?’" Hahn said. "But the fact they’ve had a breakthrough just makes you realize, ‘Look, the money people are raising is working.’"

As confident as Hahn is that spinal cord research could one day help him walk again, he says such breakthroughs encourage him more and drive him to keep doing all he can to stay as physically well as he can.

"When you see progress, that makes you realize, ‘OK, it is going to happen,’" Hahn said. "You don’t know when, but it is going to happen, so it gets you fired up to be ready for it when it does."

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