After Trampoline Accident, Navy SEAL Attacks His Paralysis
January 13, 2007
John McGuire had no desire to be this kind of role model.
When the former Navy SEAL was paralyzed in an October trampoline accident, he didn't want to talk about it. He even delayed returning a call here.
"I didn't want a story done, at first," he acknowledged this week. He'd rather be known for saving someone's life, he said. Instead, "God saved my life."
McGuire did make the phone call and a column here detailed his paralysis and his plans to come back ("Bad bounce set up big comeback," Nov. 16).
Guess what? He's back.
Not all the way yet. But there was McGuire Thursday morning, in frigid weather outside the Carillon, leading a class for his SEAL Team Physical Training Inc.
An hour of nonstop running, push-ups and sit-ups still is too much for the Henrico County graduate who spent 10 years with the Navy's elite sea, air, land special operations forces.
He is, after all, still wearing a brace for a broken neck.
But McGuire barks nonstop commands and encouragement. Toward the end, he even drops to the ground for rapid-fire elbows-to-opposite-knees sit-ups.
"I'm getting better every day," he says. "Trying to pretend like nothing happened."
It has, though. Even if it proves temporary, he was paralyzed.
"The right side is coming back slower than the left side," he says. His left side moves athletically as he runs a short distance. His right side, he admits, moves comically.
No matter. He wasn't supposed to be walking. At least not yet.
A metal plate was surgically inserted for a broken vertebrae and McGuire was to be in the hospital as long as three months.
But he put his therapy workouts into warp speed. He was out in three weeks.
And he was trying to walk from the get-go. "What motivated me most was that they put this wheelchair together."
His recovery has been so quick, his fiancée, Tracey Mang, calls him "Mr. One Percent" to reflect the slim chance he was given.
"The doctor, who's the expert," McGuire adds, "looks at me like he can't believe it."
Learning to reuse his hands, he plays video games and uses the military drill of reassembling five guns at once, blindfolded. He also is renovating his house -- just pulling out a nail is challenging.
But then, it took him 40 days to do a push-up.
The next day, he did five.
McGuire was extraordinarily fit and extraordinarily driven and, he says, extraordinarily blessed by support and prayer.
Now he says when he recovers he wants to talk to spinal-injury victims and groups.
After Thursday's class, his students eagerly talked about him.
"I'm a nurse by training and you don't see recoveries like this," Diane Engelke said. His response has been inspiring.
Phil Dawson, a pediatrician, called his a "classic example of mind over matter."
Jared Pierce, a construction company owner, said McGuire is doing what he's told others they can do.
Beverly Walters, 56 and retired, wasn't surprised. "John has a way of bringing out the best in people, not only making you believe they can do things you don't think you could do, but making you do them."
There's no certainty that McGuire will completely recover.
Don't tell him that. "By summer, at least," he insists, "it will be a bad memory."
Would you bet against him?