John Register was an unstoppable force on the field. Be it hurdles, long jump or relay – the promising athlete was an Olympian in the making. Stellar performance in sports crowned him as a four-time All-American track star at university, then earned him nine gold medals and two World Military Championships in the US Army. Next on the horizon was the Summer Olympics of 1996, but a horrid training accident left Register with an amputated leg.
Through sheer grit and a “reckoning” of his fears, Register made it to the Paralympic Games of 1996 instead, on an artificial leg.
The former-Paralympian-turned-inspirational-speaker spoke to Gulf News about his new normal, ahead of his talks at Expo 2020 Dubai’s USA Pavilion from December 2 to 4.
“In my lowest moment, when I thought my wife might leave me, when I thought my son would no longer see me as his father, when I thought my athletics career was over ... my wife wrapped her arms around me and said, 'You know what John, we are going to get through this together. It is just our new normal',” he said.
On May 17, 1994, Register jumped over a hurdle only to land with a hyperextended knee, a type of serious injury to the knee joint when it bends too far back. In the athlete’s case, it severed the popliteal artery, setting off gangrene. It was either amputation or surviving with a dead knee and ankle – Register chose to live with the former.
Overcoming fear of others
“I used to think that my fears were overcoming my limb loss. [But] what I overcame was my fear of others … their limited thinking of me and my capabilities.”
It took 18 months of physical therapy for him to get back up and on the field to prove the world wrong. Register calls it a rebirth of sorts, one that involved unlearning and learning certain truths. Once the new reality sank in and outweighed his fears, Register was back on track to fulfilling his athletic dreams.
Register not only earned a silver medal in long jump during the 2000 Sydney Paralympics, but he also set an American record. Despite being an inspiration to many around the world, the former athlete still describes his life as “inspired”. His motivational talks in retirement have one purpose: to help the audience see beyond their fears as he had.
Expo 2020 Dubai visit
“I would like visitors from the World Expo to take away that they are ‘inspirationalists’. Inspirationalists who inspire are the catalyst to motivate others to action,” he said. “I want people to take action to ensure we are building an accessible future for all.”
If you’re headed to Expo 2020 Dubai this weekend, stop by the USA Pavilion to see John Register in the flesh to ‘hurdle’ past your fears.