SALINEVILLE, Ohio (WKBN) – When former All-Ohio football player Brad Hurtig presented to students and staff in the gym of Southern Local School High School on Tuesday, his message was to encourage them to “Find A Way.”
His presentation began when he asked for students to volunteer for him and try to pick up a water bottle and drink out of it without using their hands. This was an example where students had fun, but they also experienced the struggle that the 38-year-old dealt with.
At the age of 17, Hurtig went from being a promising athlete at Fairview High School in Sherwood, Ohio, to losing both of his hands in a devastating factory accident.
Hurtig was working with his twin brother, Chris, at a factory where there was a 500-ton power press that was used to press sheet metal that was used to make car parts. Brad was moving a piece of metal to the next station with his hands.
When he did this, the power press came down, causing both of his hands to need to be amputated. Brad thought that his athletic career was over.
“I constantly was telling myself that I wasn’t going to play sports again,” he told the students.
Hurtig continued to encourage students saying that they don’t know how strong they are until strong is their only option.
During his recovery after multiple surgeries and 11 days in the hospital, coaches inquired about Hurtig possibly kicking for the football team.
When he returned to the team, he tried field goal kicking. He described that he missed three field goal attempts before finally making one on his fourth try.
One of Hurtig’s coaches jokingly told him that he was done kicking and he regained his middle linebacker position.
Hurtig decided to research prosthetics. He was able to get prosthetic hands and doctors got him padding to protect his limbs. The prosthetics are battery charged and have metal inside of them. However, Hurtig had to relearn how to tackle all over again without his prosthetics.
“It was actually the very same process that everyone does with their hands. I just didn’t have my hands. You wrap with your arms, hit with your shoulders and hit at the waste. You drive with your feet and take them down to the ground,” Hurtig said.
Within months, Hurtig returned to the team to play the sport that he loved. An interaction with one of his coaches in practice was what changed his life.
When a water bottle fell on the ground, he asked his coach to pick it up. His coach’s response was, “If you’re thirsty enough, you’ll find a way.”
During his senior season at Fairview, Hurtig found a way to lead his team with 111 tackles at middle linebacker. He won All-State honors for his efforts on the field.
Hurtig travels nationally to schools to let students know about how they can find a way and persevere. Hurtig has spoken to over 100 schools. According to his Facebook page, he spoke at Beaver Local School District on Monday. Hurtig thanked Southern Local and Beaver Local for inviting him and he expressed that he wants to let students from the Valley know that they can overcome any adversity.
“I’m here because I want to make an impact on students. I had people that made an impact on me. My coaches that inspired me to kind of show me how to get through my adversity. We all have to deal with adversities in life,” Hurtig said.
Southern Local High School Principal and high school football head coach Rich Wright discussed the impact that he believes Hurtig had on the staff and students. He said that if students are going through mental or emotional issues, they have to let the staff know.
“Talk to somebody. I mean, I hope they take that away. We don’t always get to know what’s going on inside their heads. But I hope they take that away and let people know if they’re having struggles,” Wright said.
It was later discovered that the press was faulty due to it being installed wrong. As a result, Hurtig travels to workplaces across the country to let them know about proper safety so that his accident never happens to anyone else. Hurtig has spoken to businesses and agencies that include Proctor & Gamble and the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation.
The event on Tuesday was in conjunction with the Columbiana County Board of Developmental Disabilities as a part of their community events for Developmental Disability Awareness Month in March.
Hurtig’s story was previously featured on ESPN.
Hurtig was accompanied by the Indie punk rock band 10 Talents. The band and Hurtig will be holding a free show Tuesday night at Southern Local High School at 7 p.m. where Hurtig will share more details about his story.