Have you ever wondered what it would be like if your life could be instantly changed forever. I can tell you because it happened to me. However, it wasn’t the change I was expecting or one I was hoping for. It was more like a nightmare that I couldn’t wake up from. Little did I know what seemed like a nightmare was just the start of a new chapter in my life. A chapter that had a tragic beginning but through faith in God that tragedy turned into victory. At twenty-one, most young people are just beginning life, but for me, my life almost ended and was certainly changed forever.
A 10% CHANCE TO LIVE
In 1998, I was involved in a near fatal motorcycle accident that left me with a 10% chance to live. By the grace of God, I survived. However, I had two broken femurs, a broken arm, a broken jaw, massive head trauma and a spinal cord injury that left me paralyzed from the waist down. The doctors literally had to piece me back together to save my life. Being paralyzed is a hard fact to face and not an easy one to swallow at the age of twenty-one.
As if the physical injuries weren’t bad enough, mentally I began to break down. I had to start my life over and learn how to live life in a wheelchair, but I was determined to not let that stop me from being the best I can be. What doesn't kill me only makes me stronger. It's just a roadblock to get through and with my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ living in me nothing can stand in my way. He is the true source of all my strength. He said “all things are possible if you believe.”
You have some important decisions to make. Learn how to live life.
When being faced with an unanticipated change that leaves you with a sense of loss you have some important decisions to make, decisions that will determine the outcome of your life. These unanticipated changes may not be as dramatic as mine however, but still have just as much of an emotional effect. Maybe you’ve gone through a divorce, lost a loved one or had a job loss, etc. Whatever the case may be these changes can either draw us closer to God or make us want to turn from God. We need to be very careful in these situations because it’s very easy to want to turn from God as our natural senses want to take over leaving us feeling bitter or resentful, blaming God for letting this happen. Trust me, I’ve been there. However, these are the times we need to run to God and understand He is our refuge and ever present help in time of need. In the Bible the author Paul says that we rejoice in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character, and character hope.
COMPETITION AND ACCOMPLISHMENT - MINUS LEGS OF COURSE
Along with furthering my education and starting a new and promising career, I got involved in the growing sport of wheelchair bodybuilding in 2001. Wheelchair bodybuilding began around 1993 by current promoter Frank Dalto. Frank had a vision of this event that was inspired by Chip Van Wanderham who was a star athlete and champion bodybuilder when he was severely injured in a car accident by a drunk driver. To this day over two-hundred competitors have entered the NPC Wheelchair contests and Chip is a hero to all of us, as he is to Frank also. In 2009 we had eleven competitors and the sport continues to grow each year.
To give you an idea of the importance of this competition, think of it as the Mr. Olympia of Wheelchair Bodybuilding. For those of you who are not familiar with the sport, bodybuilding is basically comparing your overall physique & muscularity. Competitors are grouped into different weight divisions. Each weight class is put through a series of mandatory poses. The judges look for a balance of size, symmetry and muscularity to determine a winner. It’s not always the big guy that wins. It works the same for us wheelchair competitors, minus legs of course. Each one of us has suffered a life-changing event some worse than others and to be able to get on stage in front of a huge audience and compete, especially at this level is a great feeling of accomplishment for all competitors – regardless of their faith. For those wheelchair bodybuilders who are Christian we know that it is a blessing.
I began competing at the national level in 2002. Each year I was getting bigger and better. Things were really starting to turn around. My job was going great and I was actually enjoying my life even though I was paralyzed. However, just when things were going so well, in October 2004 my dad lost his battle with cancer at the age of fifty. A month later I was involved in a serious car accident. I had to be air lifted to the trauma center and spent the next three weeks in the ICU. I suffered multiple facial fractures, two broken ankles, a broken right femur and fractured tibia and fibula. That accident caused me to miss the 2005 Wheelchair Nationals bodybuilding competition. I was in bad shape. With my jaw being wired shut for three weeks, my only source of nutrition was liquids.
God opened my eyes and showed me how much I have. I surrendered my life to Him, His plan and His purpose.
It was thanksgiving, I was in the hospital and my dinner was a protein shake. I wasn’t too happy about that and wasn’t feeling too thankful for anything in that moment. After spending time with God by reading the Bible and praying, He opened my eyes and showed me how much I do have and why I should be thankful. I realized that there was a reason why I was still alive and that He does have a plan and purpose for my life. My whole outlook on life was changed from that point. I surrendered my life to Him. My will is now His will and my plans are now His plans. The Bible says to trust in God with all your heart and lean not to your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your paths. That’s what I do and there is no better way to live than that.
A year later I was right back in the swing of things. I returned to work and picked right back up where I left off. I bought my first house and I’m able to live independently once again. As of 2009 I’m pursuing a new and better career, still competing and continue to excel in the growing sport of wheelchair bodybuilding. That’s the favor of God.
When God takes something from your grasp, he's not punishing you but merely opening your hands to receive something better. The will of God will never take you where the grace of God will not protect you. If God brings you to it, He will bring you through it.
LIFE IS BETTER THAN EVER WITH CHRIST
Wheelchair bodybuilding has definitely helped me overcome this battle with paralysis by giving me back the confidence and self-esteem I lost from the accident. As a Christian this is where you can run into some spiritual battles. For me one challenge was pride. Me taking all the credit for what I have accomplished since the accident. I knew I worked my butt off to accomplish all these things and in the natural wanted to say look at all I have done all by myself. It was all about me.
The other was envy. In this sport you’re always comparing yourself to the next guy and when he beats you and gets all the attention your natural reaction is to become envious. At least it was for me. This is where being grounded in the words of God protects you from letting that happen.
I'm a living testimony to God’s goodness. I take seriously Jesus’ commanded for me to go into my world and preach.
It may take some time but reading the Bible and meditating on it is spiritual nourishment. Just like proper nutrition is the key for building your muscles feeding on the Bible is your spiritual nourishment that will help your faith grow. Jesus said the Word (Bible) is life to those who find it and health to their flesh. I really began to mature spiritually though all this. That’s what it took for me to realize that He made all of this possible.
You have heard it said: Winners never quit and quitters never win. Being able to overcome all the obstacles in my life is a great victory already, and that's what it takes to not only be a winner but a true champion. Right now my life is better than ever. I never thought I would be able to say that.
Wheelchair bodybuilding has definitely given me public exposure and the opportunity for me to give witness to my faith. It’s interesting to see how people respond as I share my faith. It is always encouraging to find other competitors who share the joy of knowing Christ. It is strengthening to get together, be encouraged and give glory to God.
My vision is to use bodybuilding as a way to reach out to those who lack in their knowledge of God and want to know more. I am simply a living testimony to God’s goodness. I take seriously Jesus’ commanded for me to go into my world and preach (make known) the good news of God’s grace that I have personally experienced. As this sport continues to grow each year so does the vision of my ministry for reaching and touching more people including competitors.
I believe that people need to know that God is real, Jesus is alive and I am a living miracle. To be where I am today is a blessing! Even though I still can't physically walk, I now walk by faith in a spiritual journey that gives me the victory over this battle with my paralysis. I don’t let it stop me from being all I can be. To walk again would be icing on the cake. I stand in faith that it will happen. You’ve got to have faith. It can move mountains. Faith sees the invisible, believes the incredible and receives the impossible.
UPDATE: in 2017 John will be traveling with others to compete in South Africa.
PERSONAL REFLECTION AND GROUP DISCUSSION QUESTIONS
1. How would you feel and behave in the face of a personal tragedy or challenge?
2. Identify your own personal limitation or battle and describe how it has shaped and changed your life.
3. In what ways does faith take you further than your own self-will and determination?