Being injured takes a toll on an athlete’s mental health.
And the higher the level, the higher the stakes. Which often means greater the toll.
K.J. Hamler ain’t gonna lie to you.
“I was in a dark spot for a while going through that,” he said about his ACL tear early last season against the Jets. “Then I lost my grandmother two months after that. She was my best friend and I had to put her to rest. That was probably the toughest thing for me.”
His grandmother, who died of Parkinson’s, was Hamler’s “rock.”
“No one has taken care of me more than her besides my actual mother,” he said. “I used to take her to get her hair done and get her food every time I came home. She was going through struggles.”
During his tough rehab days, he’d think of his grandmother and how tough she was while fighting such a degenerative disease.
“There were days where I didn’t want to show up to therapy, but I always thought about her,” the wide receiver said. “She was doing therapy, so I had to go do it. I knew she wouldn’t give up, so I didn’t give up. That was my rock, really.”
Away from his teammates on the field and without his best friend, Hamler had a rough time dealing with everything.
“When you take something that you love away, you have to figure out what you’re going to do. I’ve been picking up new hobbies and things like that because I’m not just football,” he said before adding with a laugh that on the field he is just football.
“[I’m] just trying to find an identity out of football as well,” Hamler added. “That was probably the hardest part for me because all I know is football. Picking up new things, new hobbies and being around positive people that bring light and energy to your life is a big difference.”
Just “playing ball again” is Hamler’s best therapy. And now that he’s back on the field, things are getting better.
“Now that I’m around all the guys and I’m being able to do a little bit of what I was able to do before—it’s been uplifting my spirits,” he said.
Even though Hamler has dealt with injury recovery before, having torn his ACL his senior year in high school, No. 1 believes the rehab part is going faster this time around despite injuring both his knee and hip.
“The difference between now and then is I have more resources now,” he said, calling the hip/knee injury a “double whammy” for getting back on the field. “It’s been a longer, harder process, but I think this process was better than my previous [injury] because I have better resources and better technology than I did. Now, I’m getting prepared and getting ready faster.”
KJ Hamler, on the Broncos’ WR corps: “I feel like we’re the best corps in the league, hands-down.”— Andrew Mason (@MaseDenver) May 11, 2022
With two months before training camp, Hamler believes he is in a good place physically - even ahead of schedule.
“I’m playing it smart and progressing every day,” he said. “I just listen to the trainers and the strength staff. I take advice from them. They know more than I do, so I’m just taking it day-by-day. I’m in a good spot.”
That will be music to Russell Wilson’s ears, who is going to love throwing to a grass-burning wideout like Hamler.
And he’s getting closer and closer to being in a good place mentally too.
“I won’t say that I’m out of that dark place, but I’m getting better,” he added. “I can tell you that.”