With Help From My Family And Friends I Was Able To Recover
At 6 ft. 7 in. as a high school sophomore, John was hoping college recruiters would offer him a football scholarship. But due to injuries in his senior year, there were no offers from the schools he wanted to attend. He started playing football in the fourth grade when he went to watch his cousin tryout. Even though the age limit was fifth grade, the coach saw how tall he was and welcomed him on the team.
John was born in Berwyn, Illinois, and when he was 14, the family moved to Las Vegas when his mother remarried. He had an older brother who is nine years older and a middle brother who died of Cerebral Palsy before he was born.
"I was a skinny kid; I played basketball in ninth grade, and was constantly trying to gain weight." Since there were no offers from the colleges he was interested in he decided to go to Antelope Valley Community College in Lancaster, California. He played football there, and recruiters noticed him. He transferred to the University of Ilinois. "I wanted the chance to play in the Rose Bowl and play defensive end, the University of Illinois was the only college that offered the opportunity to do both. I wasn’t fast enough to play defensive end in the NFL, so I made the switch to the offensive line in my senior year.
"I didn’t get drafted by the NFL, so I signed up as a free agent, and there was a bidding war for me between the then-L.A. Raiders and the Chicago Bears. My heart chose the Bears." He signed with the Bears in 1983 as an offensive lineman. He didn’t play a lot that year as an offensive lineman but did play on the special teams.
"In my second year, I pushed myself too hard lifting weights and trying to gain weight that led to a torn tendon in my elbow. I didn’t give the injury time to heal, and the injury weakened my elbow, andthe Bears released me. I had surgery on the tendon in 1984."
In January of 1985, I got a call from and signed with Tampa. I was scheduled to start as a guard in the third preseason game. The Wednesday before the game I broke my elbow. They gave me two weeks off, then taped it up, and I returned to practice. I was eventually placed on the injured reserved list, and I later had surgery to repair the elbow. Tampa then released me from the team."
"After my time with Tampa, I met and married my wife in 1989; we divorced in 1993. I was dealing with untreated PTSD. The medication the doctor gave me I flushed down the toilet. For years I had been blaming my wife for the divorce. A decade later, when I when looking for answers she told me: ‘You don’t remember what happened? When you came home from the firehouse you wouldn’t talk to me for days and would never tell me what happened; you would just hold it all in.’"
"Between the time I was with the Bears, and before I joined Tampa, I went with a friend to a firefighter recruitment presentation. I signed up, and I was 23rd on the list. The Oak Park Fire Department told me ‘We’ll call you in January.’ I attended EMT and paramedic school for six months. Once I joined the department, I was always assigned to an ambulance. I also worked on the side as a substitute teacher for eight years, and on weekends I ran the detention hall."
From 1992 until he retired in 2017, John was a firefighter and was on duty for 24 hours with 48 hours off. "Besides fires, I went to car accidents, downed wires, and medical emergencies. A call for a SIDS baby who died took its toll on me. I went to the funeral to get closure. I took deaths very personally. At my lowest point, I couldn’t function, and I was a sobbing mess. I couldn’t understand what was happening to me." But with treatment and help from family and friends, I was able to recover.
John joined the Chicago MVP Chapter in 2018. "I was a member of the NFL Alumni Association and attended 40-60 charity events a year. When the Bears presented a check at the Chicago Center’s grand opening, they invited former players to a workout. After the first session, I was hooked, and I went to two to three meetings a month.
"I liked working with the veterans, and at MVP, my life is an open book. If one person says ‘if John got through it, I can too.’ I tell vets they have to deal with their PTSD; repressing it thinking it will go away can affect their life and heath."
"I got tired of the Chicago winters and taxes. My niece wanted Uncle John to move back to Las Vegas to spend time with her and the family. She has a 1-year-old and 5-year-old." John didn’t have children during his marriage. He spent this winter in Prescott, Arizona and moved back to Las Vegas with his girlfriend who recently found a job there. They have to make it through one of Vegas's notoriously hot summers before they’ll decide if they’ll stay there permanently. He is looking forward to working with the MVP chapter in Las Vegas.