John Register felt as though he was on the path to compete in the Olympic Games. He had twice qualified for the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials. And while he did not make the team – in the 110-meter hurdles in 1988 and the 400 hurdles in 1992 – Register felt as though he was peaking while participating in the U.S. Army’s World Class Athlete Program. The Atlanta 1996 Olympic Games were in his sights.
A training accident on a windy day, however, left Register facing the biggest hurdle of his life.
A faulty landing while running hyperextended his left knee, severing the popiliteal artery. Attempts to save his leg were unsuccessful and the leg was amputated.
Register’s rehabilitation included swimming sessions for cardiovascular fitness. These initial sessions inspired Register and fueled his desire to return to competition. After 18 months of rehab and training, Register qualified for the Atlanta 1996 Paralympic Games, where he competed in the 50-meter freestyle and was the anchor of the 4×400 medley relay.
It was during the Atlanta Games that Register was in the Athletes’ Village and saw Paralympic track and field events on television. He wanted to try that too and soon was fitted with a running prosthesis.
By the Sydney 2000 Paralympic Games, Register was ready. He set an American long jump record and won the silver medal. He also competed in the 100- and 200-meter races as well.
“I did not overcome the loss of my limb,” Register said. “To overcome the loss would mean I’d have to grow it back. What I overcame were the limits I placed on myself and that others placed on me. This is what is universal for all of us to overcome.”
Following his own athletic career, Register accepted a position with what is now known as the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee and started the USOPC Paralympic Military Program. The program, which serves active-duty and retired service members, has impacted thousands of military personnel.