Meet Jon Atwater: An Unbeatable Mind

Posted by Reeve Staff in Daily Dose on December 04, 2015

Doctor of Molecular Biology, business owner, father, and inspirational are only a few words that describe Jon Atwater.

After sustaining two separate spinal cord injuries that left him paralyzed, Jon was determined to not let this paralysis define his life or stop him from continuing his career. As a result of his tremendous resolve to keep pushing forward, Jon eventually joined ranks with SEALFIT, an intensive exercise program created by retired Navy SEAL Commander and friend Mark Divine.

“I originally got to know Mark after he first retired from the Navy SEALS. He was opening up a microbrewery in Coronado with his brothers and they brought me in as a consultant seeing the success from the two that I currently ran,” Jon explains. “He visited me in the hospital when I was injured, and then about a year ago this past May, he invited me to work at SEALFIT with him. It has been such a positive experience, and allows me to continue to train with my therapy.”

After achieving his PhD in Molecular Biology in 1987 from the University of California Santa Barbara, Jon went on to do post-doctoral research in which he created La Jolla Brewing Company and opened a franchise of microbreweries in California with a fellow classmate.

However, all of Jon’s work came to a screeching halt in 1991 when he sustained a C5-C6 spinal fracture while on a trampoline, leaving him paralyzed from the neck down. He was told by doctors it was unlikely that he would ever walk again, but two months later he walked out rehab with a walker, and even completed walking in a 5k. He returned back to work, expanding his microbrewery, and few years later he and wife Jenny welcomed the birth of their daughter.

All seemed to be back on track until Jon sustained another spinal cord injury in 2013 after falling two stories while building a solar straw house on vacation in Durango, Colorado. He fractured his C4- C6 vertebrae, and was flown to Denver for three more surgeries. Jon was then sent to Craig Hospital, a partner of the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation’s NeuroRecovery Network for recovery.

“It was very different this time around, but going through it before helped. The first time I was injured I was single, but now I had a wife and daughter, and it affects their life hugely. My goal was [and still is] to become more independent and have it affect their lives less,” Jon said.

Hearing that Jon was in Craig Hospital, Mark visited him and he gave Jon the trial of Unbeatable Mind Academy, to keep him focused on recovery. The program is named after the company’s retreat that focuses on mental clarity, increased focus, physical fitness and nutrition, and increased awareness. “It [Unbeatable Mind] was really beneficial in helping me regain function and kept me thinking positively,” Jon explained.

Now after another two years of hard work with motivation from SEAL FIT and his family, Jon has recovered to the point of walking with the assistance of a walker. His has story inspired the creation of a partnered event with SEALFIT and the Reeve Foundation. The Reeve “Workout of the Day” (WOD ) will be livestreamed nationwide during the Unbeatable Mind retreat to multiple gym locations on December 5 to promote the importance of adaptive physical activity for the SCI community, and raise funds in support of spinal cord research like The Big Idea. The hour long competitive workout will be scaled and open to athletes of all levels and physical capacities.

“SEALFIT is all about being positive and being emotionally resilient to work through your challenges, so it seemed like such a good fit,” Jon said about the partnership. “Christopher Reeve was the example of a warrior spirit, and driven to do so much in a place where a lot of people might have given up hope, but he never did.”

Register for the SEALFIT Reeve WOD event

Learn More about The Big Idea

The National Paralysis Resource Center website is supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $8,700,000 with 100 percent funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by ACL/HHS, or the U.S. Government.