A longtime track and field historian researched back to the early 1900s to see if there were any other injuries like it but found none.
But in the two decades since his injury, Register believes he has gained way more than he lost.
“Now, I do more with one leg than I would’ve ever thought to do with two,” he said while taking a break Tuesday from the Veterans with Disabilities Entrepreneurship Program.
In Stillwater for a week-long business boot camp sponsored free of charge to the veterans by OSU’s Spears School of Business, Register hopes to learn how to better help athletes who he meets as the associate director for community and veterans programs for U.S. Paralympics. He also wants to be better with his own business, Inspired Communications, which works to inspire and motivate teams of all kinds.
The hurdler who lost a leg hasn’t stopped jumping over obstacles.
Register was a member of four national championship track and field teams at Arkansas in the late 1980s. The four-time All-American did the sprints, the long jump and the hurdles, but when he finished college, he started to focus on the hurdles.
He enlisted in the Army and became part of the Army’s World Class Athlete Program. Making the Olympic team became his mission.
Even with tours of duty in Desert Shield and Desert Storm, Register continued progressing on the track. He made the Olympic trials in 1988 and 1992, and with his times in the 400-meter hurdles dropping about .3 of a second each year, he was on track to have a time that would get him into the finals at the 1996 Olympic trials.
But then late one May afternoon in 1994, Register was finishing a training session in Hays, Kan. He was making one last pass when his left leg landed awkwardly after he cleared one of the jumps.
“Something went wrong,” Register said, “and it just snapped.”
His bones didn’t snap. His kneecap did.
The patella in his left knee ended up about three inches higher than his femur. His leg bent at a sickening angle as he lay on the track. The worst of it, though, was that the dislocation clamped off an artery just behind the knee cap.
Blood couldn’t get to the lower half of Register’s leg.
It took 90 minutes for an ambulance to arrive — to this day, Register isn’t sure why the delay was so great — and then it took a few more hours before he could be flown to Wichita to see a vascular surgeon. It was past midnight, more than seven hours after the injury, when he was finally on the operating table.
“What did me in was time,” Register said. “Without blood, the leg starts dying.”
By the time his surgeon intervened, he could give Register only two options. Fuse the knee, and have such limited range of motion that a walker or wheelchair would be needed to get around. Or amputate the leg above the knee. That would lead to a prosthetic leg, but Register would still be able to walk.
For Register, the choice was easy.
“I knew it had to be amputation,” he said.
Still, the reality was harsh. He lost most of his leg less than a week after posting the year’s eighth fastest hurdle time by an American.
Videos by Jordan Pfeiffer, Spears School of Business
John Register shares his experience with the OSU National Veterans Entrepreneurship Program
Paralympian silver medalist John Register participating in OSU VEP Program