“Unstoppable” An Inspiring Conversation with Philanthropist Wesley Hamilton, Founder of The Disabled but not Really Foundation
I had the pleasure of interviewing Wesley Hamilton, the founder of The Disabled but not Really Foundation. An award-winning adaptive athlete and motivational speaker, this philanthropist is on a mission and won’t let anything stop him. Hamilton wants those with disabilities to feel equally as empowered as he has become. Learn more about this rising star!
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
Born and raised on the eastside of Kansas City, Missouri, it was hard for me or any other young black male to find opportunity outside of the streets. I got myself into some pretty bad situations, mainly to fit in and impress others. By the time I was 16, I was on my own because I was too much for my mother to handle. My actions put me on the streets. Homeless and hardheaded, I continued making bad decisions.
I began to make a change after I found out I was going to be a father. I was only 21. But then and there I knew that I wanted to set the best example for my kid. My daughter, Nevaeh, was born September 9, 2009 when I was 22. This new responsibility demanded that I work a full-time job and be very independent. I fought for sole custody around the time Nevaeh turned two. Thankfully the courts granted it. As a single father, I was determined to set the best example possible for my daughter.
Can you share the story of how you became disabled, and what you did to not let it stop you?
January 14, 2012 — The day I was reborn. At 24, I was shot multiple times by someone I’d never even met. I spent three weeks in the ICU and woke up paralyzed from the waist down with a spinal cord injury. It was a new life, and one restricted by a wheelchair. It was extra challenging being a single father with my two-year-old Nevaeh. I weighed 230 pounds, suffered from depression, and had medical complications from the weight. Knowing I had to set an example for my daughter, I worked hard and found a solution: fitness and nutrition. This new lifestyle was a way to not only lose weight but also to feel happier and healthier. I found this to be my passion — being healthy allowed me to be active and in return, I was awarded with confidence.
Can you tell us about the accomplishments you have been able to make despite your disability ?
In the first year of my new routine, I lost 100 pounds and left the dark cloud of depression. I realized the importance of fitness, especially for those who have disabilities. So I started The Disabled but Not Really Foundation. It’s a non-profit that encourages people with spinal cord injuries to get some sort of exercise, regardless of their ability. There is a lot of untapped potential out there. Lookout when everyone finds it!
I now compete nationwide in Wheelchair Bodybuilding and Adaptive Crossfit. I’m also an advocate for those who have not reached the level of confidence I have to use their voice. I placed second in the Wodapalooza Fitness Festival competition this year. I’m really proud to show how dedication and drive can lead to wonderful things.
I got an office out of WeWork Kansas City where I was able to build relationships and give the new workforce a different perception of what it means to have disability. I guess my enthusiasm and passion made an impression because I was presented with WeWork 2018 Community Giver Award in New York City. Pretty humbling…and cool.
What advice would you give to other people who have disabilities
Love yourself, and push past the limits that you have set mentally. You cannot allow your struggles to define who you are. You are stronger than you think — “You are Disabled but not Really.”
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are?
I would like to thank my daughter Nevaeh. She saw strength in me when all I could see was weakness. The unconditional love I received from my child made me feel wanted in a world that I once felt rejected in. I discovered myself after I was paralyzed, and my daughter was there to help. She was placed in my life to see me through the hard times. And it worked. Now I’m more powerful mentally than I had ever been, even when I could walk. Nevaeh is my heart and soul, motivating me to be the best version of myself that I can be.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I started a community engagement project, called Hydrate the Homeless, which has impacted many lives in the Kansas City, Missouri area. I also use Disabled But Not Really as a platform for inspirational speaking engagements and blogs/vlogs that share my experiences and highlight the accomplishments of fellow adaptive athletes.
Can you share “5 things I wish people understood/knew about disabilities” and why.
- We want to be treated just like everyone else. — Most of society looks down on people with disabilities like there is something wrong with them when in reality, we are just like everyone else. It’s not their fault because it’s just the way we are brought up.
- As a wheelchair user, we don’t like stairs. — Despite being in the new millennium, there are still buildings that are non- handicap accessible. This is an outrage, especially when you put your life in others’ hands to be carried up a flight of stairs to go to an event.
- We can be independent. — When you think of a person with a disability, you normally consider them being dependent on someone else. That’s not true. Most of us are very independent and love every bit of it.
- We do not like to be stared at. — Just because our physical appearance may not look the same as yours shouldn’t give people a reason to just stare. It feels funny to be stared at.
- We are some of the most happy, joyful, amazing, great people you will ever meet so say hi.
There’s a plan for us all, and sometimes being “disabled” is just that. It doesn’t mean we are negative. For the most part, our love and appreciation for life exceeds that from others who aren’t “disabled.” It takes time for all of us to find our purpose in life, but once we do, it’s a powerful thing. Come say hello and it can possibly change your perspective.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”?
“I never knew who I was until I became paralyzed.” For 24 years of my life, I never knew the meaning of opportunity, success, drive, or ambition. To me that was all luck. After I became paralyzed, I had to push myself past mental limits to conquer certain obstacles. Eventually I began to love myself, accept my situation, and find my true purpose.
You can say my life was full of darkness and once I was paralyzed, the light became visible. I was reborn and given another chance to serve, motivate, and inspire others. motivate, inspire. And I learned to be happy.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this :-)
I would like to meet Gary Vaynerchuk. I’ve become a much better entrepreneur because of his drive and ambition. I think the biggest impact he makes is not bragging about money. Instead, he tells you how to create revenue and succeed. Gary Vee — you rock man! I love people that want to see others succeed and you are one of them. Thank you for all that you do.