Damar Hamlin Reflects on ‘Emotional’ NFL Return After Cardiac Arrest: ‘Learned A Lot About Myself’ (Exclusive)

Hamlin tells PEOPLE how his Bills "brotherhood" and fans in Buffalo helped get him back on the field

<p>Courtesy of Don

Courtesy of Don't Quit!

Damar Hamlin

Damar Hamlin defied the odds when he returned to the NFL this season, just eight months after suffering a cardiac arrest on the field in Cincinnati that left him in critical condition.

Looking back on his return to the NFL, the Buffalo Bills safety, 25, tells PEOPLE, "It was a journey. It was a journey of emotions. It was very tough at first, but the things that got me through were these two words right here, sitting right here, just Don't Quit."

Hamlin has partnered with the brand, Don't Quit!, to release his signature cookies and cream flavor and encourage fans to push through their challenges like he did.

"And honestly, that's who I've been as a kid, now that I think about it, my mom and dad have never let me quit anything as a kid," says Hamlin.

As a child, the NFL star tried his hand at multiple sports before pursuing football. "I used to wrestle. I used to play all types of sports to stay out of trouble and just stay busy in the off-season of football, and sometimes I hated it," says Hamlin.

<p>Courtesy of Don't Quit!</p> Damar Hamlin

Courtesy of Don't Quit!

Damar Hamlin

Related: Damar Hamlin Takes an Emotional Solo Moment on the Field Where He Suffered Cardiac Arrest

"I did not like wrestling anymore. I didn't want to do indoor sport hockey, you know what I'm saying? But my parents never let me quit anything because they said it would translate over into other things.

"And lo and behold, just everything I've been through and to be able to come back and be the same person I was before everything is just truly a blessing."

Hamlin says the highlight of his season was the team's training camp at St. John Fisher before games even began. "That was probably the toughest journey for me, just overcoming all the emotions, the anxieties, the fears, every 1000 emotions that came with getting back on the field and trying to play a game," he says.

Related: Damar Hamlin Takes an Emotional Solo Moment on the Field Where He Suffered Cardiac Arrest

"I learned a lot about myself, about who I was, about what I stood for, about just trying to get back to myself. It was one of my hardest hurdles, but I was doing it while being around all of these great men, all these great people who stand for a lot of good things, who checked on me, who pushed me, and who motivated me."

Hamlin continues, "It wasn't about anything else but just us, and one thing I love about football is just the comradery and the brotherhood that you built behind the scenes and in the locker room. That was the most beautiful thing to me, my brothers just making sure I was okay at every second checking on me, but also pushing me to be better."

Timothy T Ludwig/Getty A patch in support of Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin on prior to the game
Timothy T Ludwig/Getty A patch in support of Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin on prior to the game

And the support from Bills fans "was amazing," says Hamlin. "Buffalo always shows up, and that'll be something that never ends. They've been showing up for years, not only for football, but they show up for players off the field as well."

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Releasing his signature Don't Quit! flavor "has been something that I couldn't even imagine," Hamlin says, "But it's the perfect thing because with my story of persevering, and how resilient I had to be, it aligns perfectly with what we're trying to do here with the company. We're not only bringing the world clean protein products, we're also sharing and hearing other peope's stories of perseverance as well."

Hamlin says he's approached "almost every day" by fans sharing their own stories. "It means a lot to me, and I'm always one hundred percent present in those moments," says Hamlin.

"Life's not about how many times we get knocked out, it's about how many times we keep getting up and we keep persevering and it's just about we can't quit."

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