When community volunteer John Register came to Colorado Springs from Virginia, the community offered a warm welcome.
Register visited several other schools before stumbling upon Harrison High School and he cherished his experience.
“When I walked in at Harrison, someone greeted me right away, took me into the office, sat me down and started talking to me,” he said. “They were the only school around that really welcomed me. I went to some other schools and Harrison treated me well. I said if they treat me like this, they’ll treat my son like this.”
Ever since then, Register has remained focused on improving the community. He occasionally calls track and field meets at Veteran’s Memorial Stadium, attends Emmanuel Missionary Church and shares his business acumen with local students.
Register spoke with the Southeast Express about his local work, the upcoming Olympic and Paralympic Games and more.
Why did you feel the need to give back to the Southeast area?
When I came to Colorado Springs, I didn’t see the Southeast part of the community getting a lot of love from other papers or news. It was always something negative. I thought there were amazing individuals who had so much to offer and give. But because of the perceptions that others had they weren’t getting the attention. I wanted to give as much attention as I could to these amazing folks.
How have you helped?
My wife and I have a funnel cake company and would do that at Fort Carson, Harrison High School games and down in Fountain at the Blast Dance. It wasn’t really for us; it was to teach a business skill in the Southeast community. Not that they didn’t know how to do it. But we wanted to show younger kids some of this stuff like: What’s a break-even analysis? It was so fun to see them see the money come in. We’d have them work for $15 an hour and at the end of the night pay them. Then we’d give them a bonus of four times their hourly pay. I told them, ‘If you own the business. You can choose how much you want to do for bonuses.’
How did you end up serving in the Army?
Service was great, but I went in to run track. They have the Army world-class athlete program which is now lives at Fort Carson. When I got in basic training, I walked across a field similar to (Jefferson County’s) and I understood it. You can read a history book, write about it, do a paper about it.
Until you actually walk in it, it changes your perspective. I began to understand what the true sacrifice is. I was going to be a lifer until I had the accident.
Can you talk about how you came to be a Paralympic athlete?
I had been to two Olympic trials, the first being in 1988 in the high hurdles and the long jump and then in 1992 as a 400-meter hurdler. I was training for my third trials in the 400 hurdles. I dislocated my knee in a training session in Hayes, Kansas, which resulted in the amputation of my left leg. That led me on a path to the Paralympic games. I didn’t know about the Paralympic Games at the time of the injury. I was doing rehab and swimming for physical therapy. I got so fast that I made the Paralympic team and competed in Atlanta, Georgia, (in 1996). Then I saw athletes running with artificial limbs and they had a leg made for running. Four years later, I won a silver medal in the long jump in Sydney, Australia.
We have things in our lives that might derail us or we think they’re derailing us. But in actuality they’re setting us up for our success. Can we go through it? Can we endure that time of pain in order to get to a promise that God is designing? How can we identify the pain we’re in as a set up for the comeback we’re about to experience?
Do you get nostalgic around Olympics time?
I do. It’s great to see the athletes who are about to compete. I think about my time as an Olympic athlete and a Paralympic athlete seeing how both of those experiences prepared me for watching both of the games. We have the Olympics that will happen next month and Paralympics that are happening in August. I’m one of the only athletes to be an Olympic-class athlete as well as a Paralympic athlete.
For the athletes who had to wait for the Olympics and Paralympics, how does the derailment by COVID affect them?
It’s based around the resiliency each of these athletes is experiencing. How do they manage a ripple of disturbance or not let it become a huge ripple? When COVID hit, they had to adjust their training, their training for the last four years was for the Olympic and Paralympic Games. Now they have to reset their mind and mind sight on what’s coming up this year. For the athletes who might be nearing the end of their careers, now they have to get ready for another year of training and tapering so they can be ready for the trials. In my mind, there are two games: the first are the Olympic and Paralympic Trials to get you on the team, and the second are for the actual Games themselves.
How did you decide teaching through sports was an effective method?
I think sports always teach. There are so many lessons beyond the wins and losses. We’ll hear kids and a lot of adults say, “We should have won that game.” No, you shouldn’t have. If you should have won the game, then you would have won the game. That’s an entitlement mentality. You just said you gained something you didn’t earn. Sports also show how a group of individuals can come together to win a championship. They have to gel for a team to be successful. You can take that to the corporate boardroom. You have all these different talents but each of those skillsets has to align at the job.
Guidance for the Olympics is that spectators won’t go over 50% capacity or more than 10,000 people. How does a crowd help an athlete perform better?
You can always feed off the crowd. Subconsciously you can hear the roar of the crowd. You’re not listening for the crowd noise but the lack of crowd noise is noticeable. Crowd noise helps with setting the atmosphere of the event. You can feed off that energy but once the gun goes off, most athletes are focused on the race and dialed in. They’re likely subconsciously hearing the crowd but they’re sensing the moment of the activity. When I ran the 100 and 200 in the Paralympic games, I didn’t pay attention to the crowd. I focused on every second of my race and tried to let it flow. Same with the long jump, except with the long jump I can get crowd participation. As soon as the crowd participates, I’m dialed back in.
Outside of events you did, are there any in particular you pay attention to during the Games?
Often times the commentators like to focus on the expected winner, but I focus on the people who are the sleeper.
Why do you focus on the underdog?
Just because we think on paper someone is going to win you have to honor and respect anyone who made it. Anybody can win (the event) because you don’t know how the person is feeling on the inside. Are they ready to do the event on this day at this time? When I worked for the United States Olympic Committee and they would go around the table and try to figure out who would win a race or how many medals they’d get, they’d say this person has reached their prime or was (over the hill). You never count out the Olympic champion because they’ve done it and have done so multiple times. They have the mind set to win and don’t put pressure on themselves because they know they’re the top person to beat.
If you could offer advice to any of the athletes, what words of wisdom would you have for them?
One: Focus on what you can control. That’s the biggest thing because some things will happen that will take you out of your game. Second: What do you want your legacy to be? When the reporter puts the microphone in front of your face right after you finish your competition, what is it that you want to say to that individual or those people?
Those are the things that are most critical because at the end of the day, records are meant to be broken and performances will always elevate with the “Citius, Altius Fortius” which is the Olympic motto for faster, higher, stronger.