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From football to first responder, survivor travels full circle 10 years after Aurora theater shooting

Zack Golditch was 17, when he went to watch a summer movie and survived a mass shooting – he’s older, wiser and giving back through The Hero's Journey 5K.

DENVER — Until July 20, 2012, Zack Golditch had never dialed 911, but in one night he made his first emergency call and another call to his mom – to tell her he had been shot in an Aurora movie theater. 

Since that night, he’s found a new definition for the word hero. Golditch said it’s not about coming to the rescue, it’s about being present.

Learning to give what you get is part of growing up.

Inside Firehouse 17 in Highlands Ranch, Golditch talked about the summer he was 17.

"So I’m 17 when this happened and I know little about the world. I knew about football and I knew about high school – I was just a kid learning about the world and I learned a lot…just about how people can reach out. The physical presence of somebody being there," said Golditch. 

Teenage Zack simply went to the movies that July night – and nearly died. He was shot in the neck.

"Never saw an ambulance, never saw a fire truck – maybe it was because of how far I ran away….maybe it was pure not looking up and seeing them, but at the end of the day, I never saw them," he said. 

Some road workers got him into a police car and he was rushed to the hospital.

"The memories pop up every single day – how frequent they pop up just kinda depends on what’s happening – who I’m talking to – what I’m talking about, but I’ve learned to live with it and I grow with it," said Golditch. 

Grow with it. 

For years, growing up meant playing football – the sport was the center of Golditch's life. From Gateway High School to Colorado State University and the NFL – his dream was achieved. 

All of his success though comes with a tragic resume. 

"I know early on it was – that was a tough concept for me to grasp – it was something I tended to push away, I didn’t really know how to handle that…the significance of it, the real meaning of it," said Golditch. "And 10 years later, I look back at that and I think it’s pretty incredible because that day, yet tragic, showed a lot of good." 

"I don’t want this to be the only thing people know me for but, that was me just not accepting the power of the story and not understanding how I can be a reflection of everyone who helped me get through this," he said. 

The goodness of the people he knew, and didn’t know – good, kind people who were there for him as a teenager – and “they” have become a part of his story.

"I read a quote one time that said, 'If you’re not inspired by your own story, then maybe you need to start writing and there’s something you need to start doing,'" said Golditch. 

That teenage football player is now a first responder, fully aware and prepared to respond to the next tragedy.

"I know it’s not going to happen the way we trained for it but I have empathy for those people and I think that’s where I will be the most help," he said.

The gift of time has given Golditch the chance to be his best self.

"My buckets are filled being able to do – being able to do this job, just continuously being better than I was yesterday and doing it with a smile," he said. "And doing it with effort, discipline, gratitude and empathy."

As part of Golditch's journey, he helped organize The Hero's Journey 5K on Saturday, July 23, to support scholarships for Aurora high school students to achieve a college degree.

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