When life throws you a curve ball
“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.
RACKING UP SPORTING ACHIEVEMENTS
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.
INSPIRING AND MOTIVATING 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).
A NEW CAREER PATH
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.”
CLOSING THE DOOR ON JOHN MACLEAN, WHEELCHAIR ATHLETE
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.