At just 21 years old, Austin Hatch has already experienced a lifetime of losses.
He lost his mother and two siblings in a 2003 plane crash that he survived. And in 2011, his father and stepmother died in a second plane crash that left Hatch with near-fatal injuries.
In April 2015, Hatch made the gut-wrenching decision to let go of his dreams of becoming a star basketball player, taking a permanent medical red shirt on the University of Michigan team and becoming a student assistant instead.
“Basketball has always been a huge part of my life, however, it is what I play, not who I am,” Hatch said in a statement to the Detroit Free Press.
Now he’s been giving inspirational speeches across the country, most recently at Erin’s House for Grieving Children in Fort Wayne, Indiana, where he became a national basketball standout at Canterbury High School (signed by the University of Michigan just a few days before the crash), according to Fort Wayne’s Journal Gazette.
“I feel tremendously blessed and honored to be in a position to be impactful on others and use my misfortune to help others,” he told the crowd.
“What happens to you isn’t as important as how you respond,” he said. “I am appreciative for all I have, and I have been adaptive. I once was a really good basketball player … now I have to be really good at something else, and I am working to be good at business.
“I have tried to be courageous and have enthusiasm for life. Last but not least, on the road to recovery is integrity; you can’t take short cuts and you have to be tough. I have tried to be tough, not just physically tough but mentally tough as well.”
Hatch is currently a sophomore at the University of Michigan majoring in organizational studies, according to the paper. He is interning at Domino’s Farms in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and wants to get into business management when he graduates.
“I am working 50 hours a week,” he said. “I won’t have much of a summer, but you have to work for a living sometime. I look forward to using my talents to help others in business that, [as] my dad (Dr. Stephen Hatch) said, ‘A business that consistently and constructively contributes to civilization.’ ”
Austin spent eight weeks in a coma after the 2011 crash and it took him years to recover – only to find out he would never be the star basketball player he once was – but he chooses to focus on what he still has, rather than all that he has lost.
“I have obviously experienced tremendous loss, but I feel it is essential to focus more on what you actually have,” he said. “It has made me appreciate my family more. Obviously, I appreciated them before, but I really value relationships more because I have learned it can be taken away in a blink of an eye. You just never know.”