Preparations are underway for the Rite Aid Cleveland Marathon which
celebrates its 37th anniversary when the race kicks off Sunday, May 14, 2014 in downtown Cleveland, Ohio.
More than 20,000 runners from around the world will compete in the full, half, 10k and 5k events. Wheelchair athletes of all skill levels will also race in the open, quad and hand cycle divisions after Marathon officials reinstated the Wheelchair Challenge in 2011.
John Squires, of Akron, Ohio, lead the charge to bring the wheelchair race back and improve safety for wheelchair athletes in the Cleveland Marathon, which is one of the longest standing running traditions in the midwest.
During my recent interview with John he told me, “When you’re an athlete, especially a sponsored athlete, part of your job is to be an ambassador, to be an advocate, to be the voice for the people who might not have a voice.”
John is a quadriplegic, paralyzed from the neck down following a diving accident in 1987. It happened when he was 15 years old, the summer before he was to play freshman football for Akron powerhouse St. Vincent, St. Mary’s High School. John said, “To me if I accept it then the injury, it’s won. It goes back to the athlete in me. I don’t like to lose.”
And the wheelchair hasn’t stopped John from being a winner. Now in his 40’s, John is a champion wheelchair hand cyclist, sponsored by major corporations like Labrada Nutrition and Schwalbe Tires, to small businesses like Miller’s Rental and Sales in Akron. John will soon begin training for the 2014 marathon season which includes 6 to 8 marathons across the country with several wheelchair divisions he helped organize. “Again it comes back to the drive and focus you have.” John said. “I wanted Something, so when you want something you either long for it or you make it happen.”
That’s how I first met John in 1995. Before he dedicated himself to hand cycling, John played wheelchair rugby. While he was a student at Kent State University, he formed a wheelchair rugby league called “Locomotion” and I came out to cover the story for Newschannel 5. I remember even back then how inspired I was by John’s drive, determination and positive attitude despite suffering a life altering injury. I asked John, “Did you ever ask why me?” He answered, “Sure I think everybody, to me that’s self-pity. I think everybody feels that for a while but then it’s like you know what good is that going to do? You have to grow up pretty quickly when something like that happens. You’re either going to take the next step and move forward with your life and do something with it or you’re not.”
John moved forward by returning to sports. He also makes sure other disabled athletes have the same opportunities. That’s why he formed Locomotion, so other wheelchair athletes could play rugby. It’s also why he worked to get the wheelchair division reinstated to the Cleveland Marathon. And it’s the message John shares as a sponsored wheelchair athlete. “Most of speaking is about my positive attitude and my drive and showing people if you want something bad enough you can accomplish it and if you don’t work, don’t give 150% you’re not going to accomplish it.”
According to the National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center, in 2013, there were approximately 273,000 people in the United States living with spinal cord injuries. Of that number more than 29,000 sustained traumatic spinal cord injuries like John who was paralyzed from the neck down in a diving accident.
Play the video to hear in John’s own words more on his injury, how he regained his independence to return to the sports he loves, and how he went “From Wheelchair to Champion”.
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