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Paralyzed by a shooting, he now helps others with disabilities take control of their lives

At 24, Wesley Hamilton was shot, paralyzed and became "a single father in a wheelchair." His daughter inspired him to take control of his body and his mind. Today, Hamilton is using nutrition and adaptive physical training to change lives.

Posted: Mar 12, 2021 6:41 AM
Updated: Mar 12, 2021 6:41 AM

Wesley Hamilton remembers the moment nine years ago when his life changed forever.

On January 14, 2012, Hamilton got caught up in an altercation with a stranger outside an apartment complex. The man shot Hamilton twice in his abdomen.

When the bullets pierced his body, he thought he was going to die.

"I laid on that ground taking my last breaths, having regrets about life," he said, "because it wasn't until that moment that I realized I had never lived."

Hamilton survived, suffering a spinal cord injury that left him paralyzed from the waist down. At 24, he became "a single father in a wheelchair," he said -- adjusting to a new life faced with new challenges.

"I felt hopeless and useless," Hamilton said. "It defeated me."

A year later, Hamilton was diagnosed with a pressure ulcer on his tailbone from the extended hours of sitting. He underwent six surgeries and spent the next two years confined to bed rest.

In the years following his injury, Hamilton said he became dangerously overweight, depressed and suicidal.

It was his daughter, Navaeh, who ultimately became his lifeline.

"I was determined to be a better person and a better father," Hamilton said. "My love for her is greater than she'll ever know. And that love inspired me to ... take control of my life."

He enrolled in community college and took a nutrition course. He started a healthy eating regimen and took up weightlifting. He lost 100 pounds within a year.

For Hamilton, it was only the beginning. He became an award-winning adaptive athlete and eventually a certified adaptive CrossFit instructor.

Through his journey, Hamilton realized he wanted to help other people with disabilities regain their livelihood.

Since 2017, his non-profit, Disabled But Not Really, has empowered dozens of people through adaptive physical training and nutrition coaching -- helping them take their health back into their own hands and rise above their limitations.

Hamilton developed an eight-week fitness program, and before the pandemic hit, participants would meet for one-hour group sessions twice a week as well as nutrition seminars.

When group classes were suspended because of Covid-19, Hamilton said he was committed to continuing to serve and support his program participants through private training sessions.

"People deserve to know they are more than their circumstances," he said. "My purpose is to inspire. And it's to show people what happiness really looks like despite the adversity that you have to face."

CNN's Laura Klairmont spoke with Hamilton about his work. Below is an edited version of their conversation.

CNN: How has your organization pivoted programming in response to the pandemic and what are your future plans?

Wesley Hamilton: Just like so many other organizations, we had to change our whole way that we create an impact. (We) also want to make sure that everybody is safe during these uncertain times.

We understood the lack of access to fitness centers. So, I made my garage into a gym. I host a 12-week program that is personal training two days a week, as well as nutritional information seminars that we provide to help those athletes become a better version of themselves and have an overall better quality of life.

I believe our work is very important right now during Covid, because we are targeting a community of people that are at high-risk of so many things that our organization provides information and education for -- fitness and nutrition.

With all of these changes happening, we want to continually be innovative. We want to go out to the community. We're launching a mobile trailer gym. It's our way of really making sure that everybody gets the same access. And our end goal is our own fitness center for people with disabilities.

CNN: What are some of the everyday obstacles that people with disabilities face?

Hamilton: One thing that's not talked about a lot is why people with disabilities aren't really seen in society. The disabled community is very isolated because of the lack of accessibility we have to face in any facility or business -- grocery stores to gyms, stairs to elevators, car issues. The world is ... just not really built for accessibility.

It breaks you. It brings you down on a level that you don't feel accepted in a world that is supposed to accept everybody. More people will feel comfortable at home than trying to go out into a world that makes you very, very uncomfortable. (And) you have to deal with the way people look at you, and that's debilitating in itself.

Most of the time I didn't want to get out until I realized that I had to to raise awareness for what was needing to be changed. Ninety percent of my day, I face obstacles. Facilities should be mindful enough to make sure that they have a universal design that speaks to everybody. Systems that are in place actually need to be rewritten. No one should feel alienated. It's the reason why I felt the need to create my organization. Innovation has to start somewhere. And certain facilities just need to see you there. Once you start to create that and bring people around that are different, we start to think of ideas to make everyone be accepted in one place.

CNN: You're not only helping those you work with get physically fit. How do you support them on a deeper level?

Hamilton: My main goal is to teach people how to take control of their life -- take full accountability and embrace your reality despite the circumstances that you face. When we go through our program, it's only the beginning. I want to be there through your whole journey because I want to see you successful. Even though our training looks just like normal gym strength and conditioning, it's really reshaping the things that you can do in life.

We make sure that we are attacking the mindset as well as tackling the physical aspect of the person we're helping. Allowing them to be vulnerable, to talk about their challenges, allows us to help them, and it gives them peace and makes their day more successful.

I'm bringing people of all sorts together to be empowered by one another. It's a community of people that are different, but together we are the same. I believe that people everywhere that are differently abled should experience that.

Want to get involved? Check out the Disabled But Not Really website and see how to help.

To donate to Disabled But Not Really via GoFundMe, click here

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 468498

Reported Deaths: 9100
CountyCasesDeaths
Harrison31907468
Hinds30552569
DeSoto29532342
Jackson22868335
Rankin21016355
Lee14393214
Madison13961263
Jones13053215
Forrest12879231
Lauderdale11244292
Lowndes10148171
Lamar9972122
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Clay282672
Chickasaw277464
Clarke271784
Holmes257685
Calhoun256939
Smith241546
Yalobusha215447
Tallahatchie213849
Walthall203457
Lawrence202431
Greene202045
Perry195053
Amite191251
Webster191141
Noxubee173437
Montgomery168652
Jefferson Davis164041
Carroll158936
Tunica146533
Benton137531
Kemper136538
Claiborne124134
Choctaw123824
Humphreys122036
Franklin114127
Quitman100925
Wilkinson98335
Jefferson85832
Sharkey61620
Issaquena1916
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Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 757893

Reported Deaths: 12784
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson1082301712
Mobile694251158
Madison47738562
Baldwin35347420
Shelby34758281
Tuscaloosa32576495
Montgomery32249645
Lee21576200
Calhoun19621363
Morgan19061307
Etowah18363413
Marshall17028252
Houston15881337
St. Clair14724270
Limestone13908178
Elmore13812239
Cullman13756228
Lauderdale12909263
Talladega12124200
DeKalb11705220
Walker10047303
Autauga9371119
Blount9272146
Jackson8970132
Coffee8550150
Colbert8229160
Dale8162142
Escambia632298
Tallapoosa6255165
Covington6214153
Chilton6152128
Russell586753
Franklin558292
Chambers5155127
Dallas4569173
Marion4490114
Clarke447070
Pike439188
Geneva415999
Lawrence4002101
Winston399982
Bibb388975
Barbour334667
Marengo317778
Monroe306844
Butler305878
Pickens296166
Henry288550
Randolph288255
Hale282981
Cherokee275649
Fayette268569
Washington241844
Crenshaw226962
Clay219260
Macon211154
Cleburne205746
Lamar184638
Conecuh173337
Lowndes167856
Coosa160031
Wilcox153033
Bullock145642
Perry132430
Sumter122635
Greene117941
Choctaw71925
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