John Register: Overcoming the Pathway from Fear to Freedom

I have done more with one leg than I have with two.”

5:30 p.m. is a time that John Register will never forget. Nowadays, it holds a much different meaning than the one it held 27 years ago.

John Register was a featured speaker during the 2021 S.P.O.R.T.S. Conference in Colorado Springs, Col. 

Attendees at the 2021 S.P.O.R.T.S. Conference in Colorado Springs were able to listen in on one of the best lessons possible: overcoming fear. However, this was not your typical conference seminar. Register, a  Paralympic silver medalist, spoke during a lunch reception hosted by Play Greenville about what it takes to truly embrace what lies ahead.

Register is a two-time Paralympian, United States Army veteran, and a graduate of the University of Arkansas. He embraced a “new normal” after becoming an amputee following a misstep over a hurdle while training for the 1996 Olympic Games, after participation in two consecutive Olympic trials.

Register was fast, determined, and had a grit inside of him that was burning to emerge. However, it was how he achieved that grit that stands out in the minds of people he has come across.

While attempting a routine hurdle, something Register had been doing for years, his left knee gave out and twisted underneath his body during the landing.

Register hurdles once again, truly overcoming his fears.

Suddenly, Register knew something was wrong.

“People were rushing around me. My best friend was holding my head up, and that was the moment I knew this moment in time would change my life forever. It took 90 minutes for the ambulances to finally arrive. Once they did, they rushed me to the hospital where I was in agonizing pain for two days. Unfortunately, since it took them longer than expected to get to me, I developed gangrene in my muscles which caused them to turn black. The doctor looked at my wife, Alice, and I and told me that I would be in a wheelchair for the rest of my life after being discharged from the hospital,” Register said. “I looked at him and then asked if there was any other option. I wanted to continue my Olympic career and achieve all of the goals I had set for myself. The doctor then mentioned amputation of my left leg from my knee down. I knew immediately that amputation as the route to go. However, it was not a joyous occasion. I remember looking at my wife and just feeling devastated. My life was about to change forever. Where do I go from here? She then replied with words I take with me wherever I go, “John, you just have to embrace the new normal.”

For Register, the new normal started setting in after surgery. He was in extensive physical therapy learning to walk again and attended several doctor’s visits to get fitted for a prosthetic.

“I still needed to learn how to shift my focus though. I needed something to help me look at not what I have lost, but what I can gain. So, I began swimming just months after I had gained the title of amputee,” Register said. “However, it was not just swimming. What started out as a way to help aid my recovery efforts soon became competitive swimming. Twenty-three months after I lost a piece of my leg, I swam for Team United States as a member of the Paralympic Swim Team at the 1996 Paralympics in Atlanta, Ga. This left me with a sense of determination and grit. I would return to running. I was set on that.”

Soon after Register swam on the U.S. Paralympic Team, he began running again. What started out as daily short distance runs became long distance runs. Those runs soon became long jumps. In the 2000 Paralympic Games, Register earned a silver medal in the long jump competition and set the American long jump record coming in at 17.8 feet. In addition to earning silver in the long jump, he also came in at fifth place in both the 100- and 200-meter dashes.

“I earned that fifth-place spot. I was happier winning that fifth place spot than I would have been winning a gold medal,” he explained. “I was running again, and the medal did not matter to me. I had overcome the fear I had in the hospital when the doctor told me about amputation. I had come full circle.”

Register describes his Olympic medal as a “full circle moment.”

Register then decided to share his inspirational testimony with others.

“I don’t think of myself as a motivational speaker. Motivational speakers speak, but inspirational speakers strike a chord with you.”

To date, Register has done over 340 live seminars with over 1500 clients. He has also written a book, 10 Stories to Impact Any Leader: Journal Your Way to Leadership Success, to help business leaders return to work with their staff amid stressful circumstances surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic and the recent unrest regarding national events.

Register describes his engagements as aiding individuals in discovering the root of fear.

Register has also extended his career to the author category.

“You can’t dwell on what you have lost, but what you can gain in the future. When we think too much about the past, the past becomes us. We have to hurdle forward over adversity in our life to amputate our fears. Something, anything, will always be or get better for us if we just push forward. When truth outweighs our fear, we commit to a courageous life. When we start the process of doing that, we then get the change to journey from fear to freedom.”

Register was then met with roaring applause as his story ended. He left attendees with one last token of information regarding overcoming fear with an infographic from which described the full path from fear to freedom.

Attendees left the lunch not only feeling energized from the food but enriched from the wonderful inspirational testimony from Register.