COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KDVR) — A U.S. Army war veteran and all-star athlete suffered a debilitating injury while training for the Olympics. The injury cost him his leg, but that didn’t stop the Coloradan who went on to become a two-time Paralympian and is now serving those who serve.
May is Military Appreciation Month and John Register is raising awareness about soldiers and veterans across the U.S. Register lives in Colorado Springs, but his presence is felt internationally. He went from being a combat soldier and nationally recognized athlete to losing his leg in a split second, but through the adversity, he’s built an empire to help others.
Register is now an inspirational speaker, but his journey was not easy. He ran track and field at the University of Arkansas and was a four-time All-American in track and field. After going to the Olympic trials, he decided to join the military and enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1988. During his military career, he served in Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm.
“No one comes back from war the same,” Register said. “I don’t care if you did six days, six months or six years.”
‘Life can change in one wrong step’
A changed man, Register returned from combat and began fulfilling another dream of his: competing in the Olympics.
“I was one of the world’s fastest hurdlers,” Register said.
Register also competed with the U.S Army World Class Athlete Program and won nine gold medals in the Armed Services Competition and two World Military Championships. While on active-duty training for the biggest sporting stage, Register hit the biggest hurdle of all time.
“On May 17, 1994, I misstepped a hurdle, dislocated my left knee, severed the artery behind the kneecap, and seven days later I became an amputee,” Register recalled.
Suddenly the athlete was a part of the disability community.
“I was done,” Register said. “Life can change in one wrong step. I realized that at this point and time in my life, I’m not going to the Olympic games.”
Or so he thought. Register went on to live his dream. During physical therapy, Register took up swimming and qualified for the U.S Paralympic Team. He competed in the 1996 games in Atlanta and that’s where he saw runners competing with artificial limbs.
‘It’s about service’
Shortly after, he was fitted for one and began getting right back to track and field. He competed in the 2000 Paralympic Sydney games and won the silver medal in long jump, all while shattering a U.S record.
“Did I ever think that I would get to here, from where I started? No,” Register laughed.
Now the veteran is helping others through podcasts, TED talks, global inspirational speeches, and something he knows all too well: helping wounded warriors “hurdle adversity” and “amputate fear” through athletics.
“People say, how do you get up in front of thousands of people? And I say, well it’s not about me, it’s about service,” Register said.
Register also started the Paralympic Military Sport Program in Colorado Springs in 2004. That program has since evolved into the Department of Defense’s Warrior Games and Prince Harry’s Invictus Games.
Register said he is breathing new life into those injured while serving their country, all while trying to break stigmas against veterans by helping them find employment and housing.