Cory Hahn was California’s Mr. Baseball.
He was recruited by 60 colleges, and he pitched five perfect innings in his high school’s title game.
But one headfirst slide into second base in February 2011 changed everything.
During the third game of his freshman year at Arizona State University, Hahn’s head collided with the second baseman’s knee, fracturing his C5 vertebrae and leaving him paralyzed from the mid-chest down.
“I didn’t really know what was going on at first,” Hahn, now 23, of Tempe, Arizona, tells PEOPLE.
“I saw the ball going to the outfield, then I went to get up to run and couldn’t move, and at that point, I was trying to stay calm as best I could,” he says.
Within two hours, Hahn was in surgery.
“At first, it was just a lot of confusion when I woke up the next morning,” Hahn says.
Then he found out he was a quadriplegic. He has limited mobility in his arms, legs, fingers and hands – and uses a wheelchair.
At 19 years old, Hahn had to relearn everything from brushing his teeth to using a fork.
“It was definitely a struggle at first getting out in public and being comfortable out in public and learning all the ins and outs of this new life,” Hahn says.
On May 3, the organization is hosting a “world run” in which people in 35 locations around the world will start running at the same time. The race ends when the last person finishes.
Hahn is sharing his story in a new video to get people to run on his team (his mom is one of the runners). Proceeds go to the foundation.
After the Accident
After Hahn left the hospital in June 2011, he went home to his parents in Corona, California, and started taking online classes to keep up with school.
By the end of the year, he was ready to return to Arizona to finish his degree.
“Being 19 years old, it’s not the best of times to be hanging out with your parents 24/7,” he says. “I started to miss being around people my age.”
Making that happen required sacrifices on the part of his parents: His father, Dale, 52, took a leave of absence from his job as a sales rep for an industrial equipment company to help his son get settled. His wife, Christine, 49, stayed behind so she could keep her job as a district sales manager – and the health insurance Cory needed for his continued care.
“We were going to hire a nurse, but what if he needed help in the middle of the night? What if he needed help getting ready in the morning for school?” Christine tells PEOPLE.
“Nobody can take care of your kid better than you can take care of your kid, ” she says.
It eventually turned into a permanent situation. Dale now lives two miles away from Cory, who graduated in May 2014, in Tempe, Arizona. Christine visits about every other weekend.
Their other son, Jason, 21, attends the University of Colorado at Boulder.
Christine says they’ve adapted to the situation.
“My husband and I look at it and it’s like it’s almost brought us closer in some ways because it’s like we get to re-date,” she says.
“At the same time, we look at Cory and he has his whole life ahead of him – just so many doors to be opened for him, and they don’t need to be closed because of his situation,” she says.
Cory says he can’t get through a day without his dad.
“I can’t really think about where I would be without him,” he says. “He’s helped me get better as a person, to overcome this injury.”
Cory loves his job with the Diamondbacks. For him, it’s a way to still be part of major-league baseball – even if it’s not playing, the way he once dreamed.
“If I can’t play the game of baseball, I get to do the next best thing,” he says. “I get to work in it.”
And his bosses say he brings something special to the job.
“It’s one thing to be an inspiration to the team and players, but it’s such a value to have him in the front office,” Derrick Hall, the president and CEO of the Diamondbacks, tells PEOPLE.
“The sky’s the limit with Cory,” says Hall, who first met Cory in the hospital after his accident. “He will be able to go far with his passion, commitment and love of the game.”
Cory says his next goal is to start walking again.
“I look at each and every day as a new challenge,” Hahn says.
“I look at it as an opportunity to get better and better and achieve my ultimate goal of doing things I want to do in my life,” he says, “and one of the big ones is getting back up on my feet again and walking.”