Wesley Hamilton: A Student Of Life
Five days after his 24th birthday, Wesley Hamilton was shot multiple times and left paralyzed from the waist down, but the man who tried to take his life gave him life.
Born and raised in Kansas City, Missouri, in a single-parent home in a high-poverty neighbourhood that lacked leadership, ambition and opportunities, Wesley Hamilton undoubtedly grew up a product of his environment. Hamilton moved out of his mother’s home when he was 16, thinking he would be dead or in jail by 21.
He became a father to his daughter, Nevaeh, at the age of 22. But it was just after his 24th birthday that his life would change forever. After a verbal altercation, Hamilton was shot while walking to his car, which resulted in severe injuries, including a fractured rib and a severed spine, affecting the T11/T12 vertebrae, that would leave him paralyzed below the waist.
At the time of the shooting he weighed 230 pounds (104 kilos), an extremely high figure for someone who stood only 5’ 4”. “One of the major debilitating factors after my injury was that I was overweight, which I had struggled with my whole life. But I wanted to change that, so I started to eat healthy, focus on exercise and do a lot of mental health practices. I eventually lost a hundred pounds, and I did all of that without walking,” says Hamilton.
This incredible accomplishment is what led him to launch his non-profit foundation, Disabled But Not Really, in 2017. “The key thing that started the foundation was my commitment and determination to do something that society could not even conceive me doing. I found confidence and courage after my disability that I never had before my disability. So, the foundation is all about helping people with disabilities become more active and healthier, with the hope of also finding their identity,” says Hamilton. DBNR strives to restore hope, peace and love within the disabled community. Their “no-limits” mindset empowers everyone — advocates athletes and staff alike. As a result, Wesley has revolutionized how the gym and fitness industry is making more inclusive environments for athletes experiencing challenges, such as working out in a wheelchair.
As Hamilton’s platform steadily grew and his contributions to his community became more well-known, he was welcomed to star in a very powerful episode of the Netflix hit series Queer Eye, where he got to meet the person who shot him face to face. “Most people have to understand when you come from certain communities, retaliation is the only method. I always knew his name and information, but I just didn’t act on doing anything. I believe happiness is rooted in forgiveness. So, being able to face the person that shot me and tell him ‘Thank you’ was a very profound moment,” says Hamilton.
Wesley was invited again to appear in the series to encourage, educate and help Ray “Speedy” Walker find purpose, power and positivity in his new reality after losing his ability to walk after a near-death car accident. “Anyone who is dealing with a life-altering injury or has faced some life-altering situation, the first thing you should know is that you are not defined by your circumstances, and your mind is the most powerful tool that you have. So if something happens to you physically, mentally or emotionally, you can always recover if you have control over your mind,” says Hamilton.
The most important thing in Hamilton’s life is being a student of life. He has embraced the notion that everything is a learning process, which allows him to take on new opportunities and adventures. For Hamilton, he never knew how strong he was until being strong was his only choice. He is a man who continues to lead his communities by example, through his actions geared toward creating positive changes in the world. When asked to name the greatest gift he has ever received, his response is, “The greatest gift I’ve ever received was the ability to be a father. It wasn’t until I became a father that I knew life was bigger than me.”
Hamilton has significantly impacted popular culture by sharing his own story, including accepting a $1-million donation on Good Morning America and being profiled in Shape, Men’s Health, Insider and CNN. He is one of the United States’ most successful and sought-after motivational speakers, meeting thousands of young students, adults and children, providing insights into his experience to help others find power in their own.