Damar Hamlin and Kalen Cullan: How struggles shape athletes


Photo by Peyton Svehla

Football player Damar Hamlin suffered cardiac arrest after making a tackle during “Monday Night Football” game. He was hospitalized, and is now making improvements, although his season is officially over.

On January 2, 2023, Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin was in the headlines of sports news – but not for favorable reasons. After unexpectedly collapsing during the Bills vs. Bengals “Monday Night Football” game due to cardiac arrest, Hamlin was rushed to the University of Cincinnati Medical Center For treatment. After receiving CPR on the field, he was in critical condition. The football game was postponed, and later canceled.

But something memorable happened from this tragic event. As shock and despair surrounded the stadium, coaches and players kneeled, praying for Hamlin, and even the opposing team wished Hamlin the best. Teams all over the country were sending prayers to Hamlin as well. Many people saw first-handedly how the health and safety of these competitive athletes is more important than the thrill received from watching action-packed games.

“I think seeing your teammates injured and in a state of emergency is really eye opening,” Lincoln East junior Kalen Cullan said. “Especially for the people in the NFL like the shareholders and the coaches, watching someone collapse on the field knowing that was one of your players that you take care of is tough.”

Cullan has also faced her own challenges with sports injuries. She has participated in swimming, golf, soccer, and many other extracurriculars. Cullan’s injuries began early in second grade when she broke her arm playing soccer and had to sit out for three months. Sadly, this was just the beginning. Five years later she tore her ACL skiing, sitting her out from soccer once again, this time for 18 months. During that time, a stress fracture formed in her heel, resulting in her having to wear a boot for another 18 months.

“What sucks the most is that everybody expects you to be back at your best within a week or two,” Cullan said. “Injuries blow over super fast in people’s minds, which is understandable. But you need to take time for yourself to heal, If you don’t, you’re gonna end up tearing your ACL again…”

Unfortunately, this was Cullan’s reality. After eagerly getting back onto the field, she only had one week of normality before tearing her ACL again.

Another 18 months of physical therapy passed, and Cullan decided to join the swim team, a contactless sport, leaving her excited to compete. She also faced two concussions that sat her back athletically and academically during highschool, one from tripping on a pool deck, another from a surfing trip in Hawaii. She decided to take up golf between concussions, and gained talent by the day. She had another new beginning in soccer approaching, until she severely sprained her ankle, taking her out for most of the season.

While Hamlin’s accident was an eye opener for many people, stories like Cullan’s are an opportunity for communities to see the struggles athletes go through to compete, and the determination they put into athletics to never give up, even within the local community.