When life throws you a curve ball

Finweek English Edition - - INSIDE - BY GLENDA WIL­LIAMS

“You will be big­ger, stronger, and faster.” Th­ese were some of the first words John Maclean re­mem­bered af­ter an ac­ci­dent ren­dered him a para­plegic. They planted the seed of hope in the dark­est of mo­ments and were a fit­ting prophecy of what was to come. Finweek spoke to the dogged and charis­matic Maclean, the Aus­tralian en­durance ath­lete who turned ad­ver­sity into op­por­tu­nity.

Just 22 years old, a pro­fes­sional rugby league at hlete and a spir­ing fire­man, John Maclean’s life as he knew it was ir­re­vo­ca­bly changed when he was hit by an eight-ton truck while out train­ing on his bike. De­spite the crush­ing of his body and his hopes and dreams, he set out to ful­fil the prophecy of his fam­ily doc­tor.

What fol­lowed was the har­ness­ing of ad­ver­sity into a fuel that he fed off to over­come in­cred­i­ble chal­lenges and rebuild an ex­tra­or­di­nary life. Mul­ti­tal­ented ath­lete, mo­ti­va­tional speaker, founder of a na­tional or­gan­i­sa­tion to sup­port phys­i­cally chal­lenged young­sters, au­thor of two books and now global brand am­bas­sador for Di­men­sion Data, Maclean packed more into the years fol­low­ing his trau­matic life-chang­ing ac­ci­dent than most peo­ple do in a life­time.


Ful­fil his doc­tor’s prophecy he has, and con­tin­ues to do with courage and de­ter­mi­na­tion. De­spite the pain and chal­lenges of daily life in a wheel­chair, his list of ac­com­plish­ments is stag­ger­ing. Hawai­ian Iron­man Triathlon Hall of Fame and f irst wheel­chair cat­e­gory win­ner, com­peti­tor in the in­vi­ta­tiononly Ul­tra­man World Cham­pi­onships and sil­ver medal­list at the 2008 Bei­jing Par­a­lympic Games. Th­ese are but a few. Just lis­ten­ing to the phys­i­cal, men­tal and emo­tional in­vest­ment made by Maclean is ex­haust­ing. Watch­ing footage of his achieve­ments is hum­bling and awe-inspiring. But par­al­lel to all this, Maclean (to­day 49) was also

fo­cus­ing on help­ing oth­ers.


While ob­vi­ously proud of all his achieve­ments, Maclean is per­haps most proud of the foun­da­tion that he set up in 1998 to pro­vide sup­port and as­sis­tance to phys­i­cally chal­lenged young­sters. The big­gest in­hibitor for th­ese young­sters, says Maclean, is the lack of self-be­lief of­ten inf lu­enced by words spo­ken by par­ents, teach­ers and even peers. “Black, white, walk­ing or wheel­ing, we are all the same,” says Maclean. “The word dis­abil­ity im­plies ‘ less than’, not be­ing equal,” says Maclean. It’s a la­bel he strug­gles with and was one of the rea­sons he chose to do the Hawai­ian Iron­man and swim the English Chan­nel. It led to the for­ma­tion of the John Maclean Foun­da­tion that has to date raised AUS$4m (R38m).


De­spite Maclean pass­ing his fire­man exam – a re­quire­ment for the loss of earn­ings com­pen­sa­tion court case – it ob­vi­ously didn’t re­sult in a job nor was he able to con­tinue play­ing rugby league or con­tinue his job as a gen­eral as­sis­tant at a school. But he was determined to forge a new ca­reer by help­ing oth­ers.

The con­se­quence of a chat with a doc­tor in a spinal unit saw Maclean pre­sent­ing a spinal in­jury pre­ven­tion ed­u­ca­tional pro­gramme to schools – for six years this pro­vided Maclean with a min­i­mal in­come. More im­por­tantly, that in­ter­ac­tion with chil­dren was his ap­pren­tice­ship for the board­room pre­sen­ta­tions that were to fol­low.

To­day, he con­tin­ues to i nspire oth­ers to chase their dreams and live life to the fullest. Chil­dren, fam­i­lies and cor­po­ra­tions around the globe find Maclean’s wis­dom and in­spi­ra­tion i nvalu­able i n achiev­ing fo­cus and de­liv­er­ing po­ten­tial. Iron­i­cally, now Maclean can earn more money in 45 min­utes than he would have made in a full 12 months prior to his ac­ci­dent.

The ac­ci­dent, says Maclean, has been the mak­ing of him as a per­son and fi­nan­cially. “The fi­nan­cial model looks a lot bet­ter than it did be­fore I got hit by that truck, but I wouldn’t rec­om­mend that any­one go that way,” he quips.

“I have der i ved a li f e t hat is mean­ing­ful and have been very for­tu­nate in the lessons I have learnt thus far; it also al­lows me to have con­ver­sa­tions with CEOs to as­sist them in find­ing their true po­ten­tial.”

Like Maclean, Di­men­sion Data is

also striv­ing to ac­cel­er­ate its am­bi­tions and take its achieve­ments to the next level so it was no sur­prise that it chose Maclean as global brand am­bas­sador.

“As the CIO, the chief in­spi­ra­tional of­fi­cer, my role is to in­spire and talk about the trans­for­ma­tion process. Di­men­sion Data is a global en­tity and it’s all about trans­for­ma­tion.

“If you are not mov­ing,” says Maclean, “you get left be­hind.”


For 25 years Maclean has been wheel­ing. But walk­ing is the fu­ture for him. Maclean has set him­self a com­pletely new set of sport­ing chal­lenges, this time as an able-bod­ied ath­lete. Pie in the sky stuff, you may think. But Maclean is not a man to rest on his lau­rels nor be beaten by con­ven­tional think­ing. In a bid to ac­cel­er­ate his am­bi­tions, Maclean is un­der­go­ing unique ther­apy that has al­ready en­abled him to walk short dis­tances unaided.

Maclean’s per­sonal mission state­ment is ‘ Only Pos­si­bil­i­ties’ and when he ap­proached Neu­ro­Physics ther­a­pist Ken Ware in April 2013, Maclean was living by this mantra. “I want to walk,” Maclean told Ware. “You can achieve your goal; you just haven’t known how to do it,” Ware told a shocked Maclean.

Af­ter 25 years in a wheel­chair as an in­com­plete para­plegic (the ath­lete has some move­ment and feel­ing in his left leg), Maclean has taken his f irst steps to­wards achiev­ing his dream of walk­ing again, thanks to Ware’s WareK Health trig­ger process. It’s a ther­apy that is not for ev­ery­one, cau­tions Maclean, yet he has al­ready com­peted in a con­ven­tional triathlon with walk­ing poles. And that, he says, has come about by a change in the thought process and change in ther­apy.

Over­com­ing ex­treme set­backs and learn­ing to deal with them is a choice we sim­ply have to make, says Maclean. His first book, Suck­ing the Mar­row Out

of Life, is a first-per­son ac­count of this ex­tra­or­di­nary life. In his sec­ond book,

Full Cir­cle: One Life, Many Lessons, Maclean learned the hard way the im­por­tant lessons in life, such as hu­mil­ity and per­sis­tence, self-be­lief, team work, in­spi­ra­tion and bal­ance. A third book

en­ti­tled How Far Can You Go is in the pipe­line and is due out next year.

“Men­tally, I have learnt so many great lessons along the way. It’s like a game of cards. We all get dealt our cards and I am play­ing the best I can with what I have.”

Maclean has played with as­ton­ish­ing courage and de­ter­mi­na­tion, rais­ing his game to meet the chal­leng­ing and chang­ing dy­nam­ics of his life. Driven and determined, Maclean con­tin­ues to mo­ti­vate, in­spire, en­able and help trans­form the lives of both the phys­i­cally chal­lenged and the able-bod­ied. His mes­sage is about pos­si­bil­i­ties and con­vert­ing ad­ver­sity into op­por­tu­nity. Some­thing he has come to know quite a bit about.

Awarded a sil­ver medal at the 2008 Bei­jing Par­a­lympic Games.

Hawai­ian Iron­man third and fi­nal at­tempt, 1997.

First con­ven­tional bike in 27 years.

Train­ing for Bei­jing, 2007.

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