Shea Hammond, a senior sports communication major, was diagnosed with cerebral palsy (CP) at an early age. But that hasn’t stopped him from thriving.
At 13, Hammond earned a spot on the U.S. Paralympic Soccer National Team. He appeared in a game a few years later and is now a mainstay with the squad, traveling abroad to the likes of Ecuador, England, Peru and Spain. He was a part of Team USA’s bronze medal at the 2019 Parapan American Games, but was only 17 years old at the time and didn’t play much.
A lot’s changed since that time.
This past November, Hammond led Team USA to a 3-0 victory over Venezuela in the bronze medal match of the 2023 Parapan American Games. Hammond netted two of the three goals.
“It was my fifth international tournament,” he says. “For the longest time, I was the youngest player on the team. I have really had to earn the trust of coaches and teammates, but now I’ve appeared in 24 career matches. The feeling of being able to prove myself as a starter has been validating.”
Hammond scored the team’s only goal during the group stage against Venezuela, which came on the heels of hard-fought defeats at the hands of traditional soccer powers Argentina and Brazil. Hammond scored off a deflected shot in the final 10 minutes. Team USA secured its place in the bronze medal match after a dominant 6-0 victory over Canada to close out the group stage.
“It was a true team experience,” he says of the Parapan American Games. “We played against the host country Chile, in front of a few thousand fans. We also played very well against Argentina and Brazil. Finishing our performance with the bronze medal made it one of my proudest experiences with Team USA.”
Hammond found his way to Clemson through a program established by Skye Arthur-Banning and Chuck Knepfle that recruited out-of-state athletes with disabilities. Hammond was Clemson’s first admitted undergraduate Paralympic soccer athlete in August 2020.
“Clemson and the surrounding community have been so supportive,” he says. “Professors have been very accommodating of my situation, and it’s a big factor in why I’ve experienced success. The relationships I’ve made the past four years have been incredible.”
Hammond is scheduled to graduate in May 2024. He’s applying to graduate school, with the hopes of earning a master’s degree in communication. He’s not done with soccer, either. He’ll continue training with the national team, whose next major international tournament is scheduled for November in Spain.
In addition to his Team USA exploits, Hammond and his father developed a non-profit in their home state of New Jersey called CP Soccer, which aims to provide opportunities through the sport of soccer to youth impacted by CP, stroke or traumatic brain injury. For his efforts, he was one of the inaugural recipients of the Service & Hope Award from the United States Olympic & Paralympic Foundation in December 2021.
“If I’m fortunate enough to attend graduate school, I want to be a more well-rounded advocate for persons in disability sports,” he says. “I want to provide the disability community with even more knowledge through research, not just my lived experience. It can be through public speaking opportunities, through our non-profit — anywhere I have an opportunity. Being able to showcase and educate people on what is possible, even in adverse circumstances, is my ultimate goal.”