Reprinted with permission from Connecting Vets. By Julia LeDoux.
A Gulf War Army veteran now serves as the Executive Board Chair of the Amputee Coalition, the only national nonprofit that serves all those who experience limb loss or limb difference.
John Register joined the Amputee Coalition board of directors in January 2018 and was named its interim president and CEO in 2022. He then transitioned into the role of Executive Board Chair once Cass Isidro was installed as president and CEO. In that role, he shares not only his personal experiences living with limb loss but also a passion for empowering the community to share their stories and enhance perception, policy, and passion.
Register is a four-time track and field All-American from the University of Arkansas and a two-time Olympic trials qualifier who joined the Army to make his dream of competing in the Olympics happen.
“The Army has a World Class Athlete Program, so I made the team, but before I went to my first duty station to compete, Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm started and I was diverted to the Gulf War,” he said.
Register said he made it through the conflict “without a scratch,” although it took him about 8 months to fully “come home” after he returned to the U.S. following the war.
While training with the World Class Athlete Program in 1994, Register severely dislocated his left knee. Soon after the injury, Register was an amputee.
“Emotional pain, physical pain were happening at the same time,” he said. “I did go through the stages of grief for my lost limb.”
According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, more than 2.7 million people live with limb loss in the U.S., and 28 million Americans are at risk of amputation. That number includes 1.8 million veterans within the VA health care network.
Those at higher risk for limb loss include 5 million veterans who are living with diabetes; 400,000 who are diagnosed with sensory neuropathy; and 70,000 who have foot ulcers that aren’t healing.
To heal both physically and mentally following his amputation, Register began swimming as part of his physical therapy and 27 months later made the Paralympic swim team.
“So then I saw athletes running and jumping with artificial limbs, I had a leg made for running and four years later I go to Sydney, Australia and win the silver medal in the long jump in Sydney,” he said.
Register was also instrumental in developing the Department of Defense’s annual adaptive sports competition, the Warrior Games.
“I had the concept of it because of my own life and healing through sport I said we could do the same thing with military soldiers who were healing and rehabbing,” he said.
Register also kept active by volunteering with organizations working on behalf of amputees, which led to his involvement with the Amputee Coalition.
Register said the Amputee Coalition provides training and technical support to VA’s Amputation System of Care, including implementation of Amputee Resilience Programs throughout the VA health care system and in 15 cities across the country. This impacts more than 50,000 people living with limb loss.
The Amputee Coalition also offers a free peer visitor program for veterans and others who have lost a limb or are going through orthoscopic challenges.
For more information about The Amputee Coalition, click here.