Our “I Define Me” award winner John W. Quinn is a man rich with stories. These stories stem from the challenges John has faced throughout his life. Being born with cerebral palsy in the early 1960s was only one of those challenges. But the determination that helped him overcome his physical limitations and rise above the ridicule of others forged a fighter’s spirit that served him well throughout his life.
Between his memoir Someone Like Me and his public speaking career, John’s stories have impacted thousands of lives with the message that any challenge can be overcome through ambition, determination and a connection with loved ones. We were lucky to get the chance to hear more from John. Keep reading for a unique perspective on how telling his story has reshaped his understanding of past experiences, and much more.
What was your relationship like with your brothers and sisters as a child? How did they respond to the differences you presented?
We were all very close. My brothers and sisters followed the lead of my parents who told me that I could do anything if I tried hard enough and never gave up. Yes, I had to go to physical therapy, wore eye patches, limped around and wore long pants all summer long; but the key was the simple fact that I was allowed to do anything that I wanted to do—I just wanted to play and be a kid!
Your memoir mentions that your father and a good friend were the ones who urged you to try again for the Navy physical exam after failing it the first time. How did they encourage you?
That friend is Phil Freeman who is now Superintendent of Lakeshore Public Schools— and still my best friend. We talk just about every day. I kept the fact that I was doing the duck walk down in the basement pretty much to myself. My parents showed their encouragement simply by not putting pressure on me to get a job or to move on to something else. They saw me practicing the duck walk, but never once asked me what I was doing it for. They both knew I wanted to join the Navy.
During the year you spent training yourself to duck walk, what did you tell yourself/think about in moments of impatience or discouragement?
I couldn’t believe that I failed the physical and didn’t like the fact that the doctors said, “We can’t use someone like you.” I was determined to go back and prove them wrong.
Did your experience of getting hazed and bullied in the Navy change how you saw other recruits who were disadvantaged or picked on?
Yes, but remember I was picked on and laughed at all through school. That total experience has really made me more compassionate for others throughout my lifetime.
Did being called “Mighty Quinn” build your confidence over time?
Yes. I take a lot of pride in that nickname knowing that it was given to me while I served onboard the USS IOWA (BB 61). To serve successfully on a great ship such as an IOWA-class battleship—and to leave known as The Mighty Quinn is something that I’ll always be proud of.
How did the experience of writing your book compare to other difficult challenges you’ve worked through?
Compared to surviving the coldest winter in Navy boot camp history it was pretty easy! Seriously, writing Someone Like Me proved to be very therapeutic for me. As I wrote, “It felt good to tell the truth.”
Did the writing process change anything about how you saw past experiences?
Great question! Yes! In looking back through my life, I’ve learned that there are things you can control and things you cannot. Everything happens in life for a reason. I’m happy to know that the experiences that I’ve had in my life (both good and bad) are now inspiring others.
What are some of the physical activities you enjoy today?
I love to swim, lift weights and still use resistance tubing to help develop my leg strength. Old habits die hard, I guess!
Your story resonates strongly with a lot of people, not just the CP community. When you think about your audience, who do you believe needs most to hear your story? Who can it help the most?
There’s something for everyone in my memoir. I’ve learned that most everyone is battling some kind of challenge be it physical, emotional, mental or spiritual. Someone Like Me is not a military book; it’s not just for those with cerebral palsy—I wrote it for everyone who needs a little inspiration in their daily life. I get the biggest thrill when a reader contacts me and says, “Mr. Quinn—I’ve never contacted an author before, but after reading your book, I just had to contact you. I started reading Someone Like Me this morning and just finished it a few minutes ago. I read it in one sitting and now my husband is reading it. Thank you for inspiring me to try harder and never give up!”
Enter our “I Define Me” Giveaway by commenting below and sharing your story of overcoming unlikely odds to win a copy of John W. Quinn’s memoir “Someone Like Me.” Entry deadline is March 18th and the winner will be announced Monday, March 21st!