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True to his word, Willie walked

By Walter Geiger This time last year, I wrote about Willie Hamm. Willie is an inspiration to me. An ever present figure on the sidelines at Lamar County football games and track meets, Willie has become a mentor for young men at the time in their lives when they need one the most. Willie’s back story is legend now. He was quite the athlete at old Booker High. Then, as integration took hold, he was in the first ever graduating class at Lamar County in 1976. He excelled at all sports but track was his best. Willie was a born sprinter. He joined the U.S. Army and got involved with its track and field program. He qualified for the United States Olympic team in 1980 but didn’t make it to the games in Moscow because the geniuses in Washington (they were no brighter then) boycotted the games, derailing the hopes of Willie and thousands of athletes like him. It was a huge disappointment but soon there were higher hurdles to clear. Willie developed 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. More tests would follow. In 2009, Willie was in a car crash in Alabama. He suffered a traumatic brain injury and one vertebra split his spinal cord. He had surgery in Alabama and then went to the Shepherd Spinal Center in Atlanta for 15 months of therapy. I met him on the sidelines in 2011 as he whizzed about in a motorized scooter taking photos of the players with an old film camera. Turns out he makes prints and gives them to the kids. On an off football week, he takes all the seniors out to eat on his dime. They love him. He’s hard not to love. Last year Willie told me he would walk before the 2013 regular season was over. He has been going to a VA facility in Augusta for physical therapy to train for those first steps. Friday night, he walked out onto the field as part of the pre-game ceremonies. It was the first time he had walked since 2009 and the first time he had walked onto a football field since his senior year in 1976. It was awe inspiring but the story does not end there. On Lamar County’s first play from scrimmage, Qua Searcy, whom many will argue is the best athlete to ever come out of this area, went 99 yards for a touchdown. Searcy, one of Willie’s proteges, came straight to the man on the scooter with the ball and dedicated the run to him. It brought a tear to many an eye – mine included. I sincerely hope Willie gets to walk the turf at the Georgia Dome for the state championship game. That would be a fitting end to a heartwarming tale. Walter Geiger is editor and publisher of The Herald Gazette.

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