Disabled but not discouraged

Lauren Vogel

John Squires is a typical 36-year-old man.

John Squires is a typical 36-year-old man. He graduated from Kent State with a degree in psychology and is now married and living in Akron. He drives a car that he shares with his wife. He plays rugby, cycles and skis. The only difference between Squires and any other athletic 36-year-old man is that he does all of this from a wheelchair.

When Squires was 15, he and some friends were diving off of a rope swing at Portage Lake State Park. His friend had just jumped. Squires went in after him but hesitated. His friend was not far enough away and Squires landed on his friend’s hip with his head, breaking his neck. This injury resulted in quadriplegia at C4/5, which is paralysis resulting in partial or total loss of use of limbs and torso.

“As soon as I hit him, I couldn’t move anything,” Squires said. “I sunk to the bottom. Luckily, he knew something was wrong and swam down to get me.”

Squires had wrestled for three years and played football for seven years prior to his accident. He had been captain of his football team and was even asked to attend Akron St. Vincent St. Mary’s, which is known for its rigorous football program.

Squires had to work very hard to regain strength in his body.

“That was probably the hardest part,” Squires said. “I went from being an active, 15-year-old jock, to (being unable to) move my arms. So I had to learn everything again.”

He explained the process took a long time and included rehab, working out at home and then trial and error to learn things over again.

While staying at Edwin Shaw Hospital for Rehabilitation in Akron, he was introduced to quad sports. About two years after he left rehab, he purchased a used handcycle and started cycling. Then, while Squires was in college, he put together a quad rugby team out of Akron called Locomotion.

He now has set an ambitious goal of participating in no less than three cycling marathons a year. He is already scheduled to participate in one in Columbus and would like to participate in the one in Cleveland scheduled for early this spring.

“Don’t let anything hold you back,” Squires said. “Set a goal and then set a higher goal. I truly believe the only limitations we have, we set for ourselves.”

To prepare for sports he does rigorous training. His wife, Annalisa Squires, trains with him during his cycling season. She hasn’t started skiing with him, but they hope to get her out on the slopes next year.

“If she wasn’t so involved in all of these sports, believe me, it wouldn’t be so easy to do, because it’s expensive,” John said. “Without her it wouldn’t be nearly as fun… she’s great, she’s my biggest fan.”

“I love to see him happy and having fun. It’s rewarding to see him accomplish goals and things he’s always wanted to achieve,” Annalisa said. “He is such an inspiration to me because some things are more challenging and he takes them head on, no matter how difficult they might be.”

Squires explained that out of all of the sports he does, skiing is the most demanding of his time and his body. He has to bulk up and strengthen his muscles to be prepared for the sport.

He works with his instructor, Dan Lipka, who sometimes helps him down the slopes at Brandywine Ski Resort, which Squires said, are very accessible slopes for quadriplegic athletes. Lipka explained that skiing is a challenging sport for anyone. He liked to see Squires take on such a challenge.

With every challenge, there are some minor difficulties. Lipka explained that the level of his injury makes it especially challenging for him sometimes, because Squires has no core trunk or back muscles. Because he is in great shape however, he accommodates for those weaknesses in his technique and adaptations the two of them have come up with.

“Of course, his determination is also a major benefit,” said Lipka. “It is great to see him adjust and adapt to a life changing injury and make the most out of his abilities.”

Because his equipment is so expensive (his adaptive skis costs about $3,000 compared to a regular pair of skis which cost about $200-300) he is hoping to find some monetary sponsors to help deter the cost. He already has Powerbar and Supercore as sponsors. They supply him with protein supplements to help aid him during his training. He also is sponsored by The Village Tobacconists, a local tobacco store located in Summit Mall. Still, with such extreme costs, he hopes to find more sponsors.

On top of everything else he has accomplished, Squires also does motivational speaking at local schools. He speaks to local businesses about disability awareness and how to interact with a co-worker that may be in a wheelchair. He hopes that others will always have an open mind in interacting with him or anyone with a similar disability.

“When you see someone in a wheelchair, keep in mind that we’re husbands, we’re fathers, we’re everything,” Squires said. “The way we get around is a little different.”

Contact student life reporter Lauren Vogel at[email protected].