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Spinal Cord Injury Paralysis Resource Center

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Lifting His Way Over Paralysis

By: Janelle LoBello

John Quinn at the NPC Wheelchair National Championships in March 2010

John Quinn at the
NPC Wheelchair
National Championships
in March 2010

Name: John Quinn
Injury: T6
Mechanism of Injury: Motorcycle accident
Date of Injury: 1998

Though John Quinn worked out regularly prior to a motorcycle cycle accident that paralyzed him at the age of 21, staying in shape later took on new meaning and a new lifestyle.

When Quinn was involved in a motorcycle accident in 1998, his doctors predicted there was only a 10% chance he would live through the first night. He suffered two broken femurs, a broken jaw, head trauma, and paralysis from the waist down.

"It was a T9 level injury," explains Quinn, now 33. "Shattered bone fragments tore my spinal cord though, and brought it to a T6 level."

Becoming a wheelchair bodybuilder

After his accident, Quinn tried to get acclimated to living every day life in a wheelchair. He decided to get back into shape at the gym. "I tried to do things on my own," said Quinn, an employee benefits consultant, "but that didn't work! At that point I was feeling down, that I stuck out, and people were looking at me." The owner of the gym offered his help and provided Quinn with different workout routines. "He brought in FLEX Magazine with pictures of guys in chairs jacked up and ripped. That's when it all began."

In 2001, Quinn became involved in wheelchair body building. "With the magazine I was impressed, amazed, and inspired," explains Quinn. "I said ‘I want to do that, I'd love to do that.' My trainer said, ‘So why can't you?'"

"The first year after my accident was the worst time," says Quinn. "It was idle and slow. This gave me something to shoot for. I had a goal."

Cutting out the carbs
Quinn's lifestyle has significantly changed for training to be a wheelchair bodybuilder. "I'm Italian, so my diet used to be pasta, bread, and butter," jokes Quinn. "That's another reason I went back to the gym, I had a pot belly from sitting all day! What made it worse was that I have no ab function. Now I'm on a strict nutrition program. I eat 6 meals a day, weigh my food out, and prepare it the night before. No bread or dairy; only lean meat, chicken, fish, and turkey."

In addition to having a much different diet that before, according to Quinn, he also trains harder than most guys at his gym. "I go balls out," exclaims Quinn of his training regimen. "I train four days a week. You don't have to work out for hours and hours if you get one hour in of an awesome workout."

Overall winner at the 2010 NPC Wheelchair Nationals

Overall winner at the 2010 NPC Wheelchair Nationals

In March 2010, Quinn was the overall winner at the NPC Wheelchairs Nationals in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. "It's the biggest show of the year for wheelchair bodybuilding," explains Quinn.

Partying for a purpose
Quinn, who was injured about a year after Christopher Reeve, plans on having his next tattoo be of Superman. "I want something that really means something," says Quinn.

"It's a shame it took a famous person to be paralyzed to have focus on this, but if I was ever going to get hurt, this was the time. He was out there lobbying."

Quinn raised over $3,300 for the Foundation in January 2010 when he held an American Chopper viewing party to watch the crew at Orange County Choppers build a wheelchair accessible motorcycle. "I never really got involved in any type of organization," explains Quinn. "This American Chopper event was the perfect opportunity. It felt really good that I did something like that. It ultimately benefited me too."

Faith and paralysis
Quinn draws all his strength from his strong beliefs. "When it's frustrating," says Quinn, "and when you're struggling, faith is what gets you through."

"Growing up Italian and Catholic I went to midnight mass [on Christmas Eve] because I thought it was cool," explains Quinn of his faith. "When I went back to the gym, my faith came back. I started reading scriptures with one of my brothers friends. When you meditate on it, it becomes so real, so strong."  

"You don't have to be physically walking," Quinn believes, "to overcome paralysis."

Learn more
Learn about all the different ways to live actively!

Visit the Fitness and Nutrition Center.

Tell us your story
Telling your story is one way to let anyone touched by paralysis know that they are not alone. We've created a place where you can share your journey for your benefit, and the benefit of others. Your story matters. Share it!

A Reeve Foundation Fact Sheet on Nutrition and Weight (PDF)

A Reeve Foundation Fact Sheet on Fitness and Exercise (PDF)

A Reeve Foundation Fact Sheet on FES Treadmill Information Sheet (PDF)

Craig Hospital: SCI Health and WellnessWith funding from the US Department of Education's National Institute on Disability & Rehabilitation Research, has developed educational materials to help people with spinal cord injuries live in the community maintain their health. Topics include skin care, exercise, heart disease, weight control, alcohol abuse and conditions related to the aging body. Use the link above and click on SCI Health and Wellness.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)Features numerous articles and resources on fitness, nutrition and healthy living.

Inclusive Fitness CoalitionAddresses the policy, environmental and societal issues associated with the lack of access to physical activity among people with disabilities.

ILRU: RRTC on SCI: Exercise InformationThe ILRU (Independent Living Research Utilization) program is a national center for information, training, research, and technical assistance in independent living. Its goal is to expand the body of knowledge in independent living and to improve utilization of results of research programs and demonstration projects in this field. It is a program of TIRR (The Institute for Rehabilitation and Research), a nationally recognized medical rehabilitation facility for persons with disabilities.

The National Center on Physical Activity and Disability (NCPAD)Resources promoting physical activity for people, and for health, fitness and exercise professionals.

The President’s Council on Physical Fitness and SportsInformation on making exercise an important part of your life

The Uppertone SystemIntroduced in 1990 by a C4-C5 quadriplegic, the Uppertone System allows people with C4-C5 paralysis and below to do upper body exercises necessary for rehabilitation and maintenance, without assistance.

Paralysis Resource Center The Reeve Foundation Paralysis Resource Center Information Specialists are reachable business weekdays, Monday through Friday, toll-free at 800-539-7309 from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm ET. You may also schedule a call or send a message online.

Reeve Foundation Online Paralysis Community Connecting people living with paralysis, families, friends and caregivers so we can share support, experience, knowledge, and hope.

Quality of Life Grants DatabaseFind resources within the PRC Quality of Life Grants Database. Search by Zip Code, State or an Entire Category.

Library Books and VideosFind resources within the PRC library catalog.

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Paralysis Resource Guide

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The Reeve Foundation Paralysis Resource Center Information Specialists are reachable business weekdays, Monday through Friday, toll-free at 800-539-7309 from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm Eastern U.S. Time. International callers use 973-467-8270. You may also schedule a call or send a message online.

This project was supported, in part by grant number 90PR3002, from the U.S. Administration for Community Living, Department of Health and Human Services, Washington, D.C. 20201. Grantees undertaking projects under government sponsorship areencouraged to express freely their findings and conclusions. Points of view or opinions do not, therefore, necessarily represent official Administration for Community Living policy.