Damar Hamlin took another step in his comeback as he donned pads for a Buffalo Bills practice for the first time since his cardiac arrest.
The Bills put on the pads Monday for the first time during training camp as they prepare for the upcoming NFL season. In padded practice, NFL players can tackle and get physical with each other, whereas in other practices they run no-contact drills.
Hamlin told reporters it felt “amazing” to return to the field for the padded practice.
“In football, you can’t hit that field with … hesitation,” he said. “You’re putting yourself in more danger by doing that. I made the choice to play. I’m processing a thousand emotions. I’m not afraid to say it crosses my mind, being a little scared, here and there. My strength is rooted in my faith, and my faith is stronger than any fear.”
On January 2, the 25-year-old Bills safety went into cardiac arrest after making a tackle and appearing to be hit with a helmet in his chest during the first quarter of the Bills’ Monday Night Football game against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Doctors and trainers performed CPR on Hamlin when he lost his pulse and needed to be revived through resuscitation and defibrillation. He was on a ventilator for days and spent over a week in the hospital.
Speaking to reporters after the Monday practice, Hamlin described his cardiac arrest as “a super big hurdle, as you can imagine. I pretty much lost my life playing this sport.”
He also expressed his support for LeBron James’ 18-year-old son Bronny James, who suffered cardiac arrest during a basketball game last week. “I wanted to let him know I’ll be there for whatever he needs on his journey as far as his recovery and getting back to his sport if that’s what he chooses to do,” he said.
Hamlin was cleared to resume football activities after it was determined his cardiac arrest was caused by commotio cordis, which can occur when severe trauma to the chest disrupts the heart’s electrical charge and causes dangerous fibrillations (or abnormal heartbeats).
He participated in his first full practice since the health emergency on June 6. At the time, the team’s manager said live contact and tackling would be some of the next goals in his recovery.
Last week, Bills head coach Sean McDermott said Hamlin would be a “full go” at the team’s training camp and the Bills would go at his cadence.
“It’s great,” Bills general manager Brandon Beane said in an interview with NFL Network. He said he was “super proud” of Hamlin and gave him “a big hug this morning.”
“The mental toughness that this young man’s been through, from almost losing his life to now he’s playing in day 1 of pads,” he said.
Since his on-field scare, Hamlin has supported initiatives for CPR training and advocated for more widespread access to automated external defibrillators, lifesaving devices that can be used in cases of cardiac arrest like his, in schools.
Hamlin said after the padded practice his “goal is just one day at a time.”
“My mindset right now is being ready for the Buffalo Bills whenever they need me,” he added.