Tonight, PEOPLE Icons will focus on people who have made the best of their lives despite the heartbreaking tragedies they’ve faced. The episode, rightfully called “Heroes & Survivors”, will feature 22-year-old Austin Hatch, a college student who was involved in two separate plane crashes that took the lives of his entire family.
Read on to learn about Hatch.
1. He Lost His Parents, Stepmother, and Two Siblings in Two Separate Plane Crashes
In 2003, Austin was involved in a small plane crash that took the lives of his mother, 5-year-old brother and 11-year-old sister. His father survived the crash, but suffered burns that required skin grafts and plastic surgery.
In 2011, Austin was flying with his father and stepmother to the family’s Michigan summer home. The single-engine plane crashed, and took the lives of Austin’s father and stepmother. Austin was left critically injured– he spent two months in a coma.
Austin’s recovery process was long and strenuous. He had to learn how to walk again. According to Yahoo sports, “Physical therapy helped him regain his ability to walk, to catch and shoot a ball … Crossword puzzles and word searches helped Hatch regain the mental acuity needed to return to class, but staying focused in class and completing assignments are a greater challenge for him than they once were.”
2. He Has Been Dating His Girlfriend for Two and a Half Years
Speaking with People recently, Austin revealed that he has been dating his girlfriend, Abby Cole, for two and a half years, and he intends to marry her after graduation. “She’s made me grow in my faith and made me a better man. My faith has been tested a little bit… I don’t think God made it happen [the two crashes] but he let it happen…But it’s like, if he stopped every bad thing from happening, what would the world be like?”
Cole is a former Michigan volleyball player. Austin tells the outlet, “I’m in love… I can’t imagine losing Abigail now. We’ve been together for two and a half years and [my dad] was with my mom for over 20.”
Austin has already started to plan his future. He tells People, “Ultimately my goal in life is to be a great husband and a great father and provide for my family.”
3. He Played Basketball for the University of Michigan on a Full Scholarship
Austin was offered a full basketball scholarship to the University of Michigan nine days before the second plane crash. He ended up playing for the Wolverines for the 2014-2015 season, but in April 2015, he decided to become a student assistant and end his playing career. In November 2014, he played for five minutes in a game, and made a free throw. Austin was awarded the 2015 US Basketball Writers Association Courage Award.
After announcing his decision to focus on his education, Michigan’s coach revealed that the school had been granted permission to pay for Hatch’s education without him needing to continue his basketball scholarship. “Over the past year, we closely observed Austin’s academic and athletic progress. In the end, Austin and our staff agree that the waiver is the proper next step. This change allows Austin to devote the necessary time he needs to be successful in his studies and obtain a Michigan degree. We also wanted to be sure we continued our commitment to Austin keeping his full scholarship in place for the next three years. This waiver allows for both.”
4. His Stepmother Adopted Him
After the first accident, Stephen Hatch, an anesthesiologist and partner at Pain Management Associates, remarried a woman named Kimberly Hatch. According to ESPN, Kim used to go to Julie Hatch’s grave and leave flowers so that it was tended to when Austin and Dr. Hatch visited.
Kimberly, in the words of ESPN, was a “devout woman who got down on her knees and prayed for complete strangers, for friends, for anyone who needed it.” Kim had three children from a previous marriage and Stephen adopted all of them. She, meanwhile, adopted Austin.
5. He Has Given Inspirational Speeches for Erin’s House for Grieving Children
Austin sometimes gives motivational speeches and in 2016 he spoke at the Common Core Breakfast for Erin’s House for Grieving Children. His speech was optimistic, giving hope to those who had experienced similar tragedy in their lives.
What happens to you isn’t as important as how you respond. I am appreciative for all I have, and I have been adaptive. I once was a really good basketball player, … now I have to be really good at something else, and I am working to be good at business. I have tried to be courageous and have enthusiasm for life. Last but not least on the road to recovery is integrity; you can’t take short cuts and you have to be tough. I have tried to be tough, not just physically tough but mentally tough as well.