In New Role, John Register Continues Advocating For Paralympians
by Ryan Wilson
John Register competes in long jump at the Paralympic Games Sydney 2000. (Photo courtesy of John Register)
Looking back, John Register is glad he did not win a gold medal in the long jump at the Paralympic Games Sydney 2000.
“I finished second best in the world after three and a half years of training and relearning how to run again, and then eventually jump,” Register said. “There's always a growth mindset in the Olympics and Paralympics, and had I won the gold medal, I don't think I would have received that insight.”
Register had already grown a lot in the years prior.
Coming out of the University of Arkansas, he enlisted in the U.S. Army while building a career as a high-level hurdler. When not serving in the Persian Gulf War, Register made the 1988 and 1992 U.S. Olympic Team Trials, and he had eyes on the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta before a training accident required him to amputate his left leg.
Instead, Register went to the Atlanta Paralympics as a swimmer before transitioning to Para track and field and going to the Sydney Games in that sport, where he competed in long jump as well as the 100- and 200-meter races.
Since then, the native of Oak Park, Illinois, has gone on to hold a series of influential roles, often with connections to sports and disability. His latest challenge began in June, when he was named the interim CEO and president of the Amputee Coalition, an organization that offers programming and support groups to help amputees thrive.
“It's fantastic to be leading the dynamic team, such as at the Amputee Coalition,” Register said.
The former athlete said he is primarily responsible for tasks like determining the use of funds, overseeing the safety of events and hiring more people.
Register does not expect his role to become permanent, but he said he enjoys that the job is challenging some of his “theories” on leadership and trust.
“Once you identify the talent, and whether people are capable, (you ask), ‘Are they going in the right direction?’” Register said. “Then you have to manage key stakeholders who for two years have been going through this pandemic with all of us and are itching to get back into an environment that is no longer available for us.”
At the same time, Register runs his own business, Inspired Communications International. It is designed to help businesses achieve new goals. Register offers his speaking services to his clients, and he shares his three stages of reaching success: the point of reckoning, the transformation moment and “attacking your own hurdle.”
The point of reckoning, he said, is when one realizes they do not get back what they want, similar to living life prior to the pandemic.
The transformation moment refers to the moment a person begins to overcome obstacles in their lives. In Register’s case, this is society’s beliefs about what he can do as a Black male with a disability.
The final stage of Register’s three-step process is overcoming adversity, which happens when one is motivated to attack obstacles.
He said his role with the Amputee Coalition is allowing him to put these stages to the test.
“It's been great, because I'm seeing how it actually works,” Register said.
This new role comes after years of Register working for and alongside the disability community.
He previously worked for the United States Olympic Committee, which is now the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee. He saw opportunities to advocate for better accommodations for people with disabilities within the USOC.
“We were doing sport, but we really weren't advocating for what comes after sport,” Register said. “How do we advocate for athletes who have to get on airplanes, then they get off, and their chair is busted? How do we advocate for taking the earlier flight and making sure that they get there a couple days early just in case something happens?”
A part of that advocacy for Register used the connections he had from serving in the military to start the Paralympic Military Program, which uses sports as a way for wounded veterans to rehab.
“Working for the Olympic Committee was fantastic because all of my skill sets began to come together, and all these relationships that I had,” he said. “It was a great time.”
Register also spent time with the Department of State, where he saw firsthand the intersection of advocacy and federal policy. He said he encouraged former Secretary Hillary Clinton to give Paralympians more of a voice in global affairs.
“I said, ‘We have a lot of our Olympians being sent out around the world as sports envoys to work with other ambassadors in charge of affairs around the world,’” Register said. “I (told) Secretary Clinton what I would desire is that we have Paralympic athletes do the same, because it opens the aperture even more.”
Register continues assisting Paralympic athletes. He facilitated a program with the USOPC on how to properly hold the American flag for cameras after winning medals at a Games, and he works with athletes, including Paralympians Lex Gillette and Noah Elliott, on how to use their platforms to tell their stories.
“If I find an opportunity, I put them out there,” Register said. “I think that's just what we should do.”