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A champion in my book

By Walter Geiger Other than witnessing up close and personal two undefeated seasons, one of the major joys of covering the Lamar County Trojans the last two years has been meeting and hanging out on the football sidelines with Willie Hamm. Willie never misses a game and he is a blessing to me. Willie is a Lamar County native. He attended old Booker High School and then was in the Class of 1976, the first to graduate at LCCHS. Willie was quite the athlete. He was coached by Oscar Wimberly, Carl Germany and Robert Miles. Wimberly recalls him being a solid athlete with strong legs. ‘He was a good kid – one of the very few who never gave me any trouble. I never had to call him down,’ the old coach told me last week. I was not surprised to hear it. After school, Willie joined the Army, got into its track and field program and qualified for the 1980 Olympics as a sprinter. Alas, 1980 was the year the USA decided politics were more important than sports and boycotted the Olympics. Willie missed his shot at an Olympic medal but he is still a champion in my book. Missing the Olympics was a big blow but soon there were tougher battles. Willie got cancer. Twice he went to hospice. Twice he walked out. ’The doctor asked me if I had my affairs in order and if my will was up to date. I said ‘˜What. I ain’t dying in here’ and I didn’t. I refused to die. The Lord was testing me,’ Willie said. Turns out the testing wasn’t over. In 2009, Willie was the passenger in a car on a dark Alabama highway when the driver swerved to avoid a deer. Everyone in the car escaped without a scratch except Willie. ’When I came to, I was bleeding out. I woke up in time to tell my friend to take a towel and close the back of my head together to stop the bleeding. I had a traumatic brain injury and crushed my neck. One vertebra split my spinal cord,’ Willie related. He had brain surgery in Alabama and, after weeks of recuperation there, was transferred to Shepherd Spinal Center in Atlanta where he spent another 15 months in therapy. Last fall, Willie showed up on the sidelines taking pictures from a motorized wheelchair. I had just recovered from a life threatening illness also and we gravitated to each other. Despite his trials and tribulations, Willie is one of the most upbeat people I have ever met. He comes to football and track practices and encourages the kids. ’This is my therapy,’ Willie says of his work. ’God willing, this time next year I will be walking.’ I don’t doubt it one bit. Willie has a champion’s heart!

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