TAMPA — It was a night to be inspired by the words and actions of two highly successful men who’ve not let disabilities stand in their way.
The annual Imagine the Pasta-bilities dinner on May 2 at Embassy Suites USF/Busch Gardens benefiting Paralympic Sport Tampa Bay featured ESPN play-by-play announcer Jason Benetti as master of ceremonies and John Register, a three-time All-American track and field college standout and silver medalist in the 2000 Paralympic Games.
Born three months premature, Benetti had a respiratory illness that deprived him of oxygen, a condition believed to have played a role in his developing cerebral palsy as a toddler.
But despite his inability to play sports due to the moderate impairment of his leg muscles, he began memorizing a wealth of athletic statistics at a young age and could be heard in his bedroom pretending to call games.
During his teenage years he capitalized on his resonating, deep-sounding voice by broadcasting halftime happenings during his high school’s sporting events, and announcing lacrosse and women’s basketball while a student at Syracuse University from where he graduated, in the city he now calls home. He also earned a law degree from Wake Forest University.
Register, who lives in Colorado Springs, has been passionate about sports since he was a child. He went to the University of Arkansas on a track and field scholarship, where he earned his All-American status and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in communications.
He then enlisted in the U.S. Army and served in the Gulf War and continued his athletic excellence by winning nine track and field gold medals in the Armed Services Competition as well as two world championships.
When he retired as an Army veteran he went on to qualify for the Olympic trials and had his heart set on competing in the 1996 Olympics.
But during a training session he took a misstep over a hurdle that resulted in the dislocation of his left knee and the severing of an artery that could not be reconstructed. Rather than have no use of his knee or left leg, Register opted to have it amputated and be fit for a prosthesis.
After only 18 months of rehabilitation, he qualified and competed as a swimmer in the 1996 Paralympic competition in Atlanta and went on to be a contender in track and field during the 2000 Paralympic Games in Sydney, Australia. It was there he earned a silver medal in the long jump and set a record with a distance of 17.8 feet.
He’s since become a motivational speaker and travels throughout the country delivering messages meant to inspire his audiences.
“I was not a fan of being an inspiration for a long time,” Register said.
That was until he witnessed the influence his story had on people he encountered in his daily life.
Being inspired, he said, causes people to act, which in turn results in personal growth.
“Don’t let anyone or anything hold you back. Pursue your passion and go for excellence,” said Register, whose main focus was toward the young athletes in attendance who, he said, need to make the best of their physical limitations.
And judging from Paralympic Sport Tampa Bay Coordinator Andy Chasanoff’s rundown of the athletes’ yearlong achievements, they are doing just that.
♦ The Tampa Thunder Power Soccer team is 13-0 this season and has outscored its opponents 127-0.
♦ The Tampa Bay Strong Dogs wheelchair basketball team has a record of 34-7 and is ranked No. 15 in the United States.
♦ The Junior Tampa Bay Strong Dogs finished the season with a ranking of No. 18 in the nation. They won third place in the Katie Kirlin Junior Wheelchair Basketball Tournament in Philadelphia, making it the first time they’d placed in a regional tournament.
♦ The PSTB Track & Field Team finished second in the Small Team Division of the 2013 National Junior Disability Championship.
Paralympic Sport Tampa Bay is a program of the Hillsborough County Parks, Recreation and Conservation Department. It is also one of more than 200 community-based sports programs established by the Paralympic Division of the United States Olympic Committee.
Joyce McKenzie can be reached at [email protected]