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Believe in a Way Back: Johnny Quinn

A motorcycle accident at age 21 left Johnny Quinn paralyzed below the chest. He had two choices--accept his fate, or continue to pursue his goals and dreams. This is the story of how he learned to do both.

If you ever have the pleasure of meeting professional bodybuilder Johnny Quinn, his wheelchair is the last thing you will notice.

Johnny is one of only 17 wheelchair bodybuilders in the entire country who have gone pro. And he has gone pro in a big way. Just last week after only three years as a pro, he placed third in the International Federation of Bodybuilding and Fitness (IFBB, the highest level of competitive bodybuilding in the world) pro bodybuilding division in Houston, Texas. Right now, Johnny is living the dream–but that wasn't always the case.

At just 21 years old, Johnny was in a motorcycle accident where he sustained a number of serious injuries including shattering his T9 vertebrae. The injury left him unable to move below his chest. He came to Magee for his rehabilitation to recover from his injuries and learn how to live life with paraplegia. This journey was not without struggle. He had a difficult time adjusting to life in a wheelchair, especially when he realized how easy it was to quickly put on weight when you're no longer walking. He wanted some normalcy—he wanted to get back to the gym.

And he did. Working out with paraplegia required some creativity. Johnny had to think out of the box to develop a weight lifting routine that would not injure him. Many of the exercises he does are similar to those able-bodied gym goers may do—except he does his laying down to ensure his spine is fully supported. After becoming a regular (again), the gym owner showed Johnny an article in Flex magazine about wheelchair bodybuilding. He was hooked from the very beginning.

He found bodybuilding built not only muscles, but a renewed sense of confidence and self- esteem. Just one year after he started training and only three years after his spinal cord injury, he competed in a local competition with ambulatory body builders and received not only a trophy, but also a standing ovation. The rest, as they say, is history.

As a physical therapist at Magee who works with spinal cord patients, it is remarkable to meet someone who was able to be so physically competitive so soon after injury, as many people at this point are still learning basic mobility skills. Johnny has been weight training and competing for the last 12 years. His success even landed him a feature in the movie Pain and Gain with Mark Wahlberg –Mark even gives him an onscreen five!

Looking back on his accident, Johnny is grateful for the support that he received and credits his faith for getting him through a very difficult time. Because of the extent of his injuries, he was told that he only had a 10% chance of survival. Bodybuilding helped him to stop focusing on what he could not do in a wheelchair and allowed him to be grateful for what he is able to do.

"I want to use bodybuilding as a way to inspire people to be the best they can be," he said. "To never give up, no matter what the situation looks like. I've accomplished more in my life being in a wheelchair then I ever thought would be possible."

To learn more about Johnny and his upcoming competitions, visit

Read more Sports Doc for Sports Medicine and Fitness.