As he prepares to make his first return to a non-preseason football game, Damar Hamlin and his Chasing M's Foundation hosted a back-to-school football clinic for the Boys and Girls Club of Buffalo on Labor Day.
Beyond participating in flag football drills and scrimmages, kids and their families got a chance to learn about the importance of AED devices and the basics of performing hands-only CPR, both of which saved Hamlin's life when he suffered cardiac arrest in January against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Because of the lifesaving on-field actions of the Bills' training staff, Hamlin is alive today and preparing to continue his dream of playing for an NFL team.
Hamlin played in all three of Buffalo's preseason games and was the second-leading tackler behind rookie linebacker Dorian Williams. He returned to his hometown of Pittsburgh in the second week of preseason, with several of his family members in attendance.
"It was real special, like a moment of serendipity, just like life coming full circle for me," Hamlin said after the game. "Just to go through what I went through my entire life, staying home, choosing to stay at Pitt out of so many schools ... and then to come back home, my second preseason game, getting back to playing. It's back at home right in my backyard, right?"
Although Pittsburgh took the win, Hamlin was all smiles after the game, giving former teammate and Steelers quarterback Kenny Pickett his jersey.
As he reflected on his experience since that pivotal January day, Hamlin made sure to highlight the importance of learning CPR when addressing the clinic participants before signing autographs and greeting fans.
"For those who learned CPR today, I want to give you a special thank you," Hamlin said at a youth football clinic held on Monday. "As my story shows us, we all know that CPR saves lives and it comes down to somewhere, someday, somebody is going to need help. And the people that came out to learn CPR today, you can be that person. You can be that person that has me here today standing in front of you once again."
As Hamlin prepares to move past the 2022 season, he is bringing attention to how to save athletes like him.
"This is a big, big, big, big piece of the new normal, you know, raising awareness for CPR and AEDs," Hamlin said. "Continuing on and taking this tour worldwide will be something that will be my mission forever."
Hamlin and the American Heart Association have partnered to raise awareness for the importance of CPR training. As a greater proportion of young athletes suffer cardiac arrest compared to other young people, making sure that those around youth athletics are especially prepared is vital. Not all cardiac conditions in young athletes are caused by commotio cordis, as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is the leading cause of cardiac arrest in young people, but performing CPR and using an AED can be incredibly effective in any acute cardiac episode.
Scroll to see photos from Damar Hamlin's Chasing M's Back to School Drive at Front Park.
"If we can get every layperson, bystander to be able to jump in when they see a cardiac arrest happen or they see somebody go down, we can double or triple a victim's chance of survival," said Jennifer Pratt of the American Heart Association.
Hamlin partnered with ZOLL Medical to donate 20 AEDs to community organizations in the Buffalo area.
The 25-year-old has worked hard to clear hurdles as he prepares to play meaningful football for the first time since Jan. 2. From the first full-contact day at practice to being the second-leading tackler in the preseason, Hamlin has proven that he is ready for full-speed competition.
"You see my cleats laced up and my helmet and shoulder pads on, there ain't gonna be no hesitation," Hamlin said after the Bills' preseason opener against the Indianapolis Colts. "Because you can't play this game like that. You'll put yourself at more risk by hesitating. I'm out there, I'm just not thinking twice. I'm just playing my game and how I was taught to play since I was my little brother's age."
Hamlin, whose parents Mario and Nina and little brother Damir attended the event, said that through football, he was living out his dream of being more than an athlete.
"My purpose has always been bigger than just the game of football," Hamlin said. "I love football, you know, my number one thing in life to do was to make it to the NFL … but my parents raised me and they always wanted me to stand on being more than an athlete and having more things going on."
Hamlin has been the face of a movement to learn life-saving emergency responses such as CPR or how to use an AED for over nine months. On Monday, Sept. 11, he will remind the world of just how strong the heart can be.