Former Wolverine Austin Hatch Is a True Survivor

By Bethany Bradsher, October 3, 2019

Austin Hatch is known nationwide because his life intersected not once, but twice, with unthinkable tragedy. But in his budding public speaking career—including keynotes at Connect Texas and Connect Faith—Hatch has no intention of camping out on the painful parts of the story. He has too much to say about what has happened since.

Hatch, who committed to play basketball for the University of Michigan in 2011, survived two plane crashes in eight years—tragedies that claimed five of his family members. In 2003, his mother, brother and sister were killed when the plane his father was piloting crashed. Nine days after he signed at Michigan, his father’s plane crashed again, taking the lives of his father and stepmother. Austin suffered brain trauma, a broken collarbone and broken ribs.

He was in a coma for two months, and when he emerged he had to learn how to walk again. He did more than learn how to walk. Against steep odds, he also learned to play basketball again, and John Beilein, the Michigan head coach who had recruited him, let him know that he still had a place in the Wolverines program. He played in just five games and scored one point during his time at Michigan, but Beilein and the team surrounded him and became a family through an inconceivable second round of grief.

Since his graduation from Michigan in 2018, Hatch has married former Wolverine volleyball player Abby Cole, started a corporate job with Domino’s and hit the road to meet a growing demand for his time as a speaker. In that short time, he has addressed audiences from companies like Ford, Wells Fargo and Kellogg, as well as charities like Big Brothers Big Sisters, schools and other community groups. His message centers on the inevitability of hardship in life, but also the personal development that can come for those who persevere through it.

“When I speak, I don’t talk that much about the events that happened,” Hatch says. “That doesn’t really provide a lot of value for people. It’s all about our response to those events. We all have adversity every single day, and we should approach every form of adversity we find with same mentality. If we approach the smaller forms of adversity with the right mentality, then when we face the big one, we’ll respond to it how we respond to the other ones.”

To drive that point home, Hatch tells the story of Mexico Beach, a town in the Florida Panhandle that was almost obliterated by Hurricane Michael in 2018. But one house withstood the battery, because of the unusual strength of its foundation. The builders of that house prepared for the worst, hoping it would never come, he says.

The same is true of people who never know what life will unleash on them. He illustrates this need for a foundation of character by encouraging the development of four key qualities, spelled out by the acronym GRIT.

GRIT is shorthand for a growth mindset, resilience, integrity and team. The examples and the presentation style differ with the audience, he says. He has spoken to Fortune 500 executives, as well as children who, like him, have lost their parents at a young age.

At the core of all of his remarks, he says, is a strong message of gratitude and hope. “I consider myself blessed to be in a position to help others because of my story,” he says. “I would do anything to have my family back, but I look in the mirror and think, ‘I shouldn’t have it this good.’ Life is good, we’re so blessed.”

Hatch is based in Ann Arbor, where he shares time between his Domino’s position and public speaking and Abby works as the stewardship coordinator in Michigan’s athletic development office. As demand grows, Hatch is hoping to move toward speaking as a full-time vocation, he said, and with every engagement he sharpens his presentation and his conviction that his story, with all of its peaks and valleys, constitutes a responsibility to make sure others embrace their lives with determination and perspective.

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