Sports have always been my passion. My athletic career started early when I began swimming competitively at the YMCA in Oak Park, Illinois, and then moved on to baseball, football and eventually track and field. I became an NCAA All-American three times in the long jump and twice on the 4×400 relay teams at the University of Arkansas.
After serving in the U.S. Army in Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm, I returned home and trained to qualify for the U.S. Olympic Track and Field team. But on May 17, 1994, my life changed forever with one misstep over a hurdle. A faulty landing hyper-extended my left knee, resulting in an injury severing the popiliteal artery. An attempt to reconstruct the artery failed, and within days gangrene had turned my muscle black. Amputation was suggested.
As a contender for the 1996 Olympic team, having my left leg amputated was a devastating injury. Through the support and love of my family and friends and through the use of a prosthesis, I learned to walk again – and eventually to run.
It was swimming that took me to my first Paralympic Games in Atlanta in 1996, but it wasn’t until I watched the long jump competition that I realized my full potential as an amputee athlete.
As a former All-American long jumper, I was intrigued when I saw a person with an amputation similar to mine (above the knee) who wore a prosthesis and had the ability to run leg-over-leg to complete the maneuver.
The athlete began his run up to the take-off board, the crowd cheering and clapping rhythmically for him. He sprinted down the track and took off into the air – only to have his prosthesis fly off mid-flight! His prosthesis landed about three feet in front of him, and the entire crowd was dead silent.
The jumper turned to the official and yelled out for all to hear, “Hey, so where are you going to measure my jump from? From right here where I landed or over there where my artificial leg landed?”
The crowd and I both roared with laughter, and I learned a valuable lesson: it’s your attitude that determines your altitude. By changing my perspective from the five percent of things I could no longer do to focusing on the 95 percent of things I still could do, I realized that I could do almost anything.
As soon as I returned home from the Paralympics, I looked into getting outfitted with the proper runner’s leg I would need to return to the track. By using a leg with light and strong carbon fiber, along with a flexible plastic socket, I soon was able to get back into running.
The rest is history. After one year of running with my new prosthesis, I tied the American record in the long jump, and after two years I broke that record and captured the Silver medal at the 2000 Paralympic Games in Sydney, Australia.
I never would have been able to achieve what I did without the amazing advances that have been made in the field of prosthetic design. Plastics have played such a huge part in the evolution of active prostheses, like the one I used to capture the Silver medal. Plastics have helped make them stronger, lighter, more flexible and allow for them to be individually fitted – something that is essential for any amputee runner to ensure the device stays secure and comfortable.
John Register is co-owner of Inspired Communications and is an inspirational catalyst. His dynamic keynote addresses and corporate training are based on the theme, “Hurdling Adversity.” For more information about booking John for your next presentation please visit him at http://johnregister.com/request.php.