Alumnus John Register, a University of Arkansas track star turned Paralympic medalist, returned to the University of Arkansas campus on April 8-10 as the Arkansas Alumni Association’s 2014 Johnson Fellow.
Endowed by Dr. Jeff Johnson, B.A.’70, and his wife, Marcia, the Johnson Fellows program was created to bring esteemed alumni back to the University of Arkansas campus to engage and inspire students. Register is the fifth Johnson Fellow.
Register, who now resides in Colorado Springs, Colo., shared his message about “Hurdling Adversity” with students and veterans. The All-American Razorback qualified for the Olympic trials twice, once in the 110 meter hurdles in 1988 and again in 400 meter hurdles in 1992. He was on his way to competing as a member of the 1996 Olympic Team when a misstep over a hurdle caused a serious injury leading to the amputation of his leg. After 18 months of rehabilitation and training, he competed on the 1996 paralympic team as a swimmer. He was soon fitted with a running prosthesis and earned a silver medal in the long jump at the 2000 Paralympic Games, setting the American long jump record. He also placed fifth in both the 100- and 200-meter dashes.
Athletics have been Register’s passion since he began swimming competitively at the Oak Park, Ill., YMCA. He then moved on to baseball and football. He eventually started competing in track and field, the sport that earned him a scholarship to the University of Arkansas, where he became a four-time All-American – once in the NCAA long jump, once in the 55-meter hurdles and twice on the 4×400 meter relay teams. He was part of four national championship track teams under coach John McDonnell.
As a track athlete, Register watched McDonnell build a track dynasty that won 42 national championships – something that taught him about working hard.
“You have to work very hard,” Register said. “If someone’s ahead of you, you have to work harder. That’s the Razorback spirit.”
Register completed his bachelor’s degree in communications in 1988 and then enlisted in the U.S. Army. As a Desert Shield and Desert Storm veteran, Register continued to pursue athletics in the Army’s World Class Athlete Program, winning nine gold medals in the Armed Services Competition and two World Military Championships.
In 2003, he accepted a position with the U.S. Olympic Committee in Colorado and created the Paralympic Military Program, which uses sports to assist wounded service members. He also works as an inspirational speaker.
Register said he is amazed to be chosen as a Johnson Fellow, and he is honored to come back and give back to the University of Arkansas. He is eager show students how impactful their years on campus will be in their futures and Call the Hogs with them.
“I’m most looking forward to being able to see the future of our country and our world,” he said. “Our world is now a global market. When I was there, the campus looked one way. Having Walmart headquarters so close to campus has changed the whole landscape.”
His message for University of Arkansas students will be that “you can hurdle anything. All of us face adversity in our lives. How we handle the adversity is a direct reflection of our true character.”