PITTSBURGH (AP) — Damar Hamlin never doubted the Chasing M’s Foundation could do big things. He just didn’t exactly anticipate being able to do so many of them so quickly.
Not that the 25-year-old Buffalo Bills safety is complaining.
If anything, it’s the opposite.
Actually, it’s exactly the opposite.
Sure, Hamlin didn’t anticipate becoming a touchstone on the importance of CPR or an inspirational figure to millions when he established Chasing M’s on college at the University of Pittsburgh.
Yet it hardly matters. Hamlin is thankful for many things these days, including the seemingly never-ending ripple effects of his near-death experience in Cincinnati in January. Among the biggest is the spike in interest in his foundation.
Chasing M’s has seen its profile rise dramatically in the last six months in lockstep with Hamlin’s recovery. Millions of dollars have poured in. Opportunities that Hamlin thought he’d have to save for down the road are popping up. He’s not trying to let a moment of his good fortune go to waste.
“I wake up every day and think about how I can impact the world in a positive way, that’s what I care about if you take away everything else,” Hamlin told The Associated Press on Friday.
The events and programs that were merely long-term goals a year ago are suddenly already at hand. Hamlin will host his first football camp, for children ages 5-12, at historic Cupples Stadium in Pittsburgh’s Southside neighborhood July 7.
On July 9, which has been officially named “Damar Hamlin Day” in his hometown, Chasing M’s will provide free CPR training for hundreds at PNC Park, home of the Pittsburgh Pirates. It’s part of a “CPR Tour” that began in Buffalo in early June, Hamlin’s way of trying to give back to the first responders who used CPR to save his life after he went into cardiac arrest in the first quarter of a game against the Cincinnati Bengals.
“I just want to be able to … take a nation of bystanders and turn them into lifesavers and give them a true superpower,” Hamlin said “To be able to save a life is a true superpower. Instead of people standing by not knowing what to do, I’m just trying to create more people who do know what to do. This weekend specifically, people in my community.”
Chasing M’s also will donate defibrillators to youth sports organizations and assist an all-star high school football game featuring some of the top players in the Pittsburgh area. While the game has existed for several years, Hamlin’s direct involvement, has created more buzz than usual.
For a player who starred at Central Catholic in the city’s Oakland neighborhood before signing at Pitt, it’s an event he knows can have a direct impact on the trajectory of a recruit’s career.
“It was made to give the kids out of Pittsburgh and the WPIAL District and the City League a platform they don’t normally get,” he said. “It’s an area known for football, but it can get overlooked. It looks like we’ve got to believe in ourselves before anyone else will believe in us. This gives everyone the opportunity to be seen.”
Ask Hamlin what he sees for Chasing M’s in the future and he answers immediately. He’s been thinking about this for a long time, ever since watching father Mario do the same in the McKee’s Rocks area where he grew up.
Recreational centers. Programs, both athletic and academic. The list of goals seems to be growing by the day. As does the potential reach of Hamlin’s burgeoning foundation.
“We are trying to make the biggest impact we can,” he said. “That includes connecting with other non-profits (and) seeing how we could collaborate. It’s not even just thinking about five years down the road. We’re thinking about 30 years down the road.”
As much as he thinks about the future, Hamlin makes it a point to try to stay in the moment. He returned to practice with the Bills this month and said he feels “great” but is more focused in the short term on pulling off the kind of weekend of giving back he believes will become an annual thing in Pittsburgh and hopefully elsewhere.
While Hamlin allowed there’s still “a lot of processing” around what happened to him in January, he is trying to take it all in stride. He didn’t anticipate making Chasing M’s imprint expand by achieving the type of celebrity that transcends sports in an instant.
It happened. He’s doing his best to navigate what is in many ways unprecedented waters by using his newfound fame to broaden the number of lives and communities Chasing M’s can reach.
“My (notoriety) came about a different way,” he said. “But we’re here and we’re getting the job done.”