Former EWU Cross Country Assistant Coach Competes in London Paralympics

By Peter Sowards, Senior Reporter

For a guy who has traveled in the last year to New Zealand, Canada, Mexico and most recently London for the 2012 Paralympics, former Eastern assistant cross country coach Chris Hammer seems to be taking everything in stride.

“To represent your country in anything is pretty amazing,” Hammer said. “To do it in a sport that you love to do was awesome and it was a surreal experience.  The amount of support the athletes got out in London running in front of 80,000 people, it’s just an experience that I wasn’t really anticipating that I’ll never forget.”

Hammer, who has helped coach Eastern’s cross country team the past two years, competed in the 1500 meter, 800 meter, and a marathon in the London games, with a best finish of ninth coming in the 1500.  For Hammer, though, representing his country meant more to him than any medal ever could.

“Being the lone American in any of my events I definitely felt some pride, pride in being able to be out there to represent my country,” Hammer said. “When I was running the marathon, the people were lining the course, they weren’t yelling ‘Chris!’, they were yelling ‘Go U.S.A!’ I took more pride in that than if they were cheering for me personally.

“There’s no comparison when you go out of the staging area on to the track and you just see 80,000 people yelling louder than you’ve ever heard any stadium yell.  Nothing can prepare you for that and there’s nothing to compare it to.”

When Chris returned to the United States from London, one of his first stops was a visit to the nation’s capital where he had the honor to meet the president and vice-president, as well as all the members of both the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic teams.  “It was hard to act like you belong instead of looking like just a star-struck fan,” Hammer said.

Hammer competed collegiately at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Michigan, and was a four-time NCAA Division II track All-American from 2006-2009.  After receiving his bachelor’s degree and spending one year teaching in Colorado, he decided he wanted to be more athletically involved in a collegiate setting and moved to Cheney with his fiancée.  Both Chris and his fiancée enrolled at EWU and Chris began working on his M.S. in physical education and sports administration, graduating earlier this spring. Chris also started coaching, which is something he would like to do a lot more of in the future.

“It would be a dream career to work within the collegiate setting as a coach or administrator,” Hammer said. “I’m just trying to make a career out of this eventually, so these experiences are just invaluable for that.”

EWU cross country coach Chris Zeller has gotten to know Hammer over the last two years and considers Hammer to be an inspiration to the runners.

“He definitely inspired [the runners],” Zeller said.  “In the back of their minds they knew he was out there working his rear-end off so they knew they couldn’t slack.  If assistant coach is doing it and putting in the work there was no room for them to slack.  [He’s] absolutely inspirational.”

Born without a left hand, Hammer didn’t let his disability get in the way of his dreams, nor did he use it as an excuse.  “I don’t really think I overcame any odds.  I never grew up thinking I was at any disadvantage.  I’m fortunate to have these opportunities.  What my parents always told me was, ‘Hard work is the only thing that matters and trying your best and if you do that good things are going to happen.’ My advice is don’t give up and take advantage of any opportunities that come your way.”