This story originally appeared in the Winter 2020 issue of ONU Magazine.
“I REMEMBER EVERYTHING.”
For Hannah Martin, BS '20, being trapped in a real life horror was nothing like the movies. Until the night of Aug. 4, 2019, she’d only seen gunshot victims dramatically clinging to consciousness on screen. Now, suddenly, she was one of them, wide awake and applying pressure to a bullet wound above her left knee as her friends pulled her toward the protection offered by a shallow alcove outside of Ned Pepper’s bar on East 5th Street in Dayton, Ohio. What had been a happy social scene just 32 seconds prior, was suddenly the backdrop to yet another American mass shooting, one that would leave nine people dead and 17 more wounded.
She remembers the police – first, many out in the street, and then one officer crouching over her tightening a tourniquet around her thigh. She remembers what he said to her. “Everything’s going to be OK.”
After that fateful night out, which began as a celebration of the conclusion of a successful summer internship at Kettering Hospital, Martin had one goal: to get back to ONU. For Martin, ONU was both a goal to aid in healing and a safe place to allow her to do it. There, she knew she had the support she’d need to get back to her life. Her life before that night in the Oregon District.
“That’s all I wanted to do,” she says. “I wanted to get back to my normal routine, and I think that speaks to how much I love ONU, knowing how much ONU has shaped me in the time I’ve been here. I was itching to get back.”
There were 31 other people also itching for her to return as well, and that was before the shooting. Martin is a stalwart on the ONU women’s soccer team, a three-year starter who had never missed a game prior to this past season. She is part of a senior class that came into the season with a 94% winning percentage in the Ohio Athletic Conference (OAC), two regular season OAC championships, an OAC tournament championship and an NCAA Elite Eight appearance on their résumés. The players and coaches had high hopes for the season.
The day after the shooting, Mark Batman, ONU women’s soccer coach, received an email from Martin’s mother, Sarah. He had read about what happened the night before, and as a Dayton area native, he was worried he would know someone affected by the tragedy. He just didn’t expect it to be one of his players.
“When you get an email like that, you fear the worst,” says Batman. “I picked up ONU women’s soccer assistant coach Cayleb Paulino, and we drove down to Dayton to see Hannah. When you get into coaching, you don’t expect anything like that. There’s no blueprint for it.”
In addition to Batman and Paulino, ONU Athletic Director Tom Simmons, ONU President Dan DiBiasio and first lady Chris Burns-DiBiasio visited Martin in the hospital. The support from ONU began in earnest and wouldn’t let up, with President DiBiasio telling her, “I’m going to make sure I hand you your diploma when you walk across that stage next May.”
Martin was in the hospital in Dayton for three days following the shooting. Her wound was particularly difficult to treat because the bullet ruptured the tendon that attached her quadriceps muscle to her patella. To complicate matters further, the reverberation of the bullet caused hairline fractures in her femur, which needed to be stabilized to avoid further damage. Taken together, the torn tendon and fractures meant that Martin’s leg would need to be stabilized so the muscle and bone could heal together. The result was an external fixator. Surgeons drilled two pins into her tibia and two into her femur on the side and then connected them with two long rods.
“It was the weirdest thing ever – it looked like something out of Edward Scissorhands on my leg. It made it super painful to get up and get around, and I couldn’t get it wet, which meant six weeks of not showering,” says Martin.
With the beginning of the fall semester still weeks away, Martin had time to heal well enough to return to ONU, but faced with the prospect of diminished quality of life, her plan to get back to school was in jeopardy.
Martin’s uncle, Bob Martin, BS ’85, is an orthopedic surgeon in Columbus, Ohio. He came to visit her in the hospital and knew immediately what the fixator would mean to his niece’s recovery. One of his partners, a trauma specialist, offered a second opinion, and so Martin’s father, Alan Martin, BSPh ’89, packed her up that same day and drove to Columbus, where she had the external fixator removed and replaced with an internal metal plate and screws. This technique would give her more mobility, but at the expense of three additional weeks locked in extension in a hip-to-ankle leg brace.
Of course, Martin knew how to weigh the pros and cons of any decision affecting her body. As an athlete, she knows how her body responds, and as an exercise physiology major, she’s aware of how the body works. For three more weeks in a leg brace, she’d have greater mobility, be able to place some of her body weight on her leg and have the ability to shower – all keys to not only returning to ONU, but also being successful there.
When she did return to campus, ONU did its part to support her, providing her with a golf cart to get from her off-campus apartment to her classes. Her professors helped her stay on top of coursework when she had to miss class to attend physical therapy sessions and follow-up surgical appointments.
“I’ve always been a dedicated student. I love to learn, but this semester I faced the fact that I had to miss more class than I ever had due to my condition. So them realizing that, yes, my education is important, but not only that, my whole health is important, both physically and mentally, has been awesome. From the president down, everyone has been amazing,” she says.
Even with an outpouring of support, Martin’s recovery has been a seesaw of emotions. As her body has healed, she’s felt better emotionally, but that has still been the hardest part. She experienced a severe trauma in which she and her friends were victims of a horrific act of random violence that cost one of her friends his life. That alone would be hard to recover from, but Martin also feared losing her identity.
“I remember arriving at the hospital that night and telling the nurses that I was a college athlete. All I wanted to know was if I’d be able to play in my final season,” she says. “I’ve always identified as a student-athlete, and once I knew that was changing, I had to start dealing with the pain of not being able to do something I love.”
Playing soccer was instrumental in her life before Dayton, and now, not playing soccer would be instrumental in her recovery. Batman allowed Martin to assume a new role on the team. More coach than a player, Martin was key in helping a young and inexperienced defensive back line. She went to every practice and every game she could this season, seeing the game from a different perspective than what she’d always known.
“It’s been interesting to see from this side for sure. To watch the growth of this team over the season and not be directly contributing on the field, but to be kind of like a mentor or give my advice to younger players that haven’t been in that situation before has been rewarding,” she says. “It’s not the way any of us ever planned for me to have my senior season, but it is what it is. You just have to roll with the punches.”
When Batman was recruiting Martin to play at ONU, he wanted her for her talent on the field, but also for her intangibles – those non-quantifiable attributes that make good players become champions. Martin’s toughness, resiliency and competitiveness set her apart. Even now in describing her injury, she laments that if the bullet had not ruptured her tendon, if she had only been shot, she’d have had the chance to play at some point in the season. Any soccer coach will tell you that’s the mentality you want in a center back.
“Her resiliency is amazing. She’s inspired all of us this year,” says Batman. “And not just here at ONU, but throughout the OAC. Until this season, she’s only known the soccer side of it on game days. She’s a super competitive kid, and there are teams she just loves to beat. Now, I think she has a bit different perspective about just how big our soccer family truly is," he says.
Throughout the season, the team raised nearly $3,000 for the Dayton Foundation in Martin's honor, with the donations earmarked for the Oregon District shooting. They sold water bottles with the hashtag #DaytonStrong printed on them and were surprised when John Carroll asked to buy 15 and Muskingum wanted 10. Otterbein raised money on their own and contributed close to $400 to the cause. After ONU defeated Baldwin Wallace 7-1, their coach handed Batman an envelope with $600 contributed by their fans in support of one of his players. When he told Martin, the hard-nosed defender who played last season with a torn meniscus in her left knee broke down in tears.
The past five months have given Martin a different perspective on a lot of things. She’s a bit more apprehensive in large crowds, but she knows she can’t live in fear all her life and doesn’t plan to. She is aware of her place in this strange history our nation finds itself in with regard to mass shootings, something that didn’t truly dawn on her until someone at the hospital asked her if she wanted to meet the President of the United States and later when she received a letter from Ohio Governor Mike DeWine, JD ‘72. She believes she’ll be a better exercise physiologist now that she’s been on the other side and experienced the impatience of wanting her body to heal faster than it could. And perhaps most importantly, she’s at peace with her senior season as an ONU soccer player. She may not have gotten to compete the way she wanted to, but she was every bit the same sheer force of will the team needed her to be as they marched to another OAC conference championship and berth in the NCAA tournament. She even got to take the kickoff at senior day and be on the roster for the team’s final game, after the NCAA ruled that she could dress and be introduced as the team’s 25th player.
“Everyone’s time playing soccer comes to an end. Everyone has their final season. For us seniors, our last game is coming up, whether we win the national championship or we lose this weekend,” she said on the eve of the team’s Sweet Sixteen appearance. “I guess I’ve just had more time to process that than they have. It’s not bad at all. It’s just different.”
Today, Martin still takes it one day at a time. Her goal is to graduate in May and let President DiBiasio fulfill the vow he made to her in the hospital in Dayton. Then she wants to get a job and move on with the rest of her life. She’s learned a lot about resiliency, about community, about love and about loss. But thanks to these lessons, hard as they were, Martin knows she’s going to be a stronger person moving forward. And she’s going to remember everything.
An update from Hannah:
In the back of my mind, I kept thinking that all the precautions we were taking were so we could have Commencement. Graduation was always my end goal. I never wanted to fall behind. I wanted to graduate with my friends. But as the weeks passed and we learned more about the coronavirus and saw the numbers of cases in our country grow, I realized it wasn’t going to happen. And I agree with that decision. I know my grandparents and my family wanted to watch me graduate more than anything, but the risk was far too great. The silver lining to all of this for me is that my family and friends are safe and healthy. I’m fortunate that my body has healed and that I’m in a much better place than I was at the beginning of my senior year. I have found joy in the little things in life. I’ve read more. I’ve gotten to do a lot more baking, which I love to do. I've found solace in Scripture. So yeah, it’s a tough pill to swallow that I didn’t get that traditional commencement experience, but I’m proud of myself that I was even able to finish everything. I am an ONU graduate, and it feels amazing.
—Hannah Martin, BS '20