One wrong hurdle and life, as John Register knew it, was over.

The athlete, who qualified twice for the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials — first in the 110-meter hurdles in 1988, then in the 400 hurdles in 1992 — didn’t make the teams, but felt confident he would for the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta.

Until he landed wrong during practice and severed his popliteal artery. He was faced with a Sophie’s choice: get his left leg amputated or keep the leg and use a walker or wheelchair forever.

“I wanted mobility,” said Register, a Springs resident who, before losing his leg, won nine gold medals in the Armed Services Competition and two World Military Championships after enlisting in the U.S. Army and participating in Operation Desert Storm. “With a prosthetic you can walk. That was the moment of let’s get it over with.”

The surgery left him in exquisite pain, partly from phantom limb pain, and partly from emotional pain, as he wondered: “Will my wife stay with me? Will my son still see me as a father? Do I still have a job in the military? Can I still support my family?”

Not to mention his Olympic dreams, which were seemingly over. Or were they?

Register began swimming to rehab his body, and found himself inspired to compete in the sport. He wound up at the Atlanta 1996 Paralympic Games, where he competed in the 50-meter freestyle and 4-by-400 medley relay. It was there he also watched Paralympic track and field events, and decided to blaze a return, only this time with a prosthesis.

He went on to win a silver medal and set an American record in the long jump at the Sydney 2000 Paralympic Games; he also competed in the 100- and 200-meter races. Standing on the platform to accept his medal was a powerful moment for Register.

“You see the American flag go up, and it’s being raised because of your efforts — those 20 years — and everyone in the stadium is silent,” Register remembered.

“All these nationalities are honoring this medal ceremony, and that’s when you realize the moment is so much larger than you standing on that podium. All this effort isn’t about me, but connecting our world through sport, to celebrate humanity.”

The Paralympian will be a special guest at Saturday’s Downtown Winter Fest. Presented by the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Museum and Colorado Springs Sports Corp., the event will fete the Olympic Winter Games in Beijing, which kick off Friday and run through Feb. 20. About 5,000 to 7,500 people are expected to attend the free event at the museum.

“This is unique to Colorado Springs,” Register said. “The museum is a staple we have in Colorado, so let’s celebrate it here.”

Joining Register will be figure skating gold medalist Peggy Fleming and bobsled gold medalist Vonetta Flowers. They’ll speak about their Olympic journeys and will also be available for questions and meet and greets.

The daylong celebration will feature cultural demonstrations, including traditional Chinese dances by Christina Yeh Chinese Dance Studio and a traditional Tai Chi sword demonstration by The Center for Aikido and Tang Soo Do Studies; live music by funk and soul band Soul School; food vendors and a beer garden; ice skating lessons on synthetic ice; and airing of the Olympic and Paralympic games on a jumbotron.

Visitors also will get free access to portions of the museum, where they can watch indoor sport and athlete demonstrations. A torch relay featuring Olympic and Paralympic athletes and community leaders will make its way through the plaza at 4 p.m.

Contact the writer: 636-0270

Contact the writer: 636-0270

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