Some people sit back and let life happen to them, while others take a stand and work on creating the lives they want to live. John W. Quinn clearly and unequivocally belongs to the latter group.
In his memoir, “Someone Like Me,” subtitled “An Unlikely Story of Challenge and Triumph over Cerebral Palsy,” Quinn shows the world just how hard he was willing to work to pursue his dream of a naval career. John was born in Garden City, MI and raised in a fun, lively household alongside of his 8 siblings. John was always just a little bit different. He wasn’t able to run and jump and skate like his brothers and sisters, in fact, he wasn’t even able to walk until he reached the age of four.
His parents, in desperate search of an answer to John’s problems and wanting nothing more than to give him a good and normal life, took a young John to see the doctor, who promptly diagnosed him with a condition known as Cerebral Palsy. Cerebral Palsy, or CP, is most notably a condition that affects muscle control, but there are many other symptoms as well—variations in muscle tone, lack of coordination, involuntary tremors, favoring one side of the body, delay in motor skill and speech development, difficulty with vision or hearing, and an unusual “scissor-like gait.” John also had to contend with partial paralysis and having two different-sized feet. “Having been born with CP has made me a very goal-oriented person who does not give up easily,” says Quinn.
Quinn decided to pen his memoir when he recognized the lack of inspirational memoirs present in today’s bookstores, especially those which have been written by or about a disabled adult making his or her way in life despite the challenges. Around the same time that John made this observation, he met a young boy named Trevor, who had also been diagnosed with CP. “After meeting with Trevor’s parents I soon realized that they were looking for hope for their son – and finding it – through my accomplishments. I started writing Someone Like Me the very next week,” Quinn says.
The author wants to tell children born with CP or any other condition that would make them different from their peers that “just because you do something different does not make it wrong. It’s just different. Find your own way to succeed.” Quinn also wants to tell the parents of these children to “focus on your child’s ability, not their disability. Let them try, fail, and try again. Support them in their attempts to succeed. Allow them to find their own way in this world.”
“Someone Like Me” spans John’s early development and childhood up until the present day, but the primary focus of his memoir is on his time with the US Navy. “Serving my country is something that has always appealed to me ever since I saw my oldest brother come home from Navy boot camp,” explains Quinn. The first time he tried, John almost made it into the navy (after having withheld the truth about his CP, when the recruiter asked if there were any health conditions that should be disclosed), but he failed the physical and was dismissed. Rather than admit that his dream was lost, he decided that his problem was nothing a little time and a lot of hard work couldn’t fix.
John spent one year in his parents’ basement devoting his days to practicing the maneuver which had led to his embarrassing failure of the Naval physical—a little exercise called the duck walk. Quinn says this year was one of the hardest of his life: “I was down there in that musty cellar with nothing to keep me company but the memory of being told the navy couldn’t use someone like me. When people tell me I cannot do something, I just smile – and use it as fuel to keep going.”
John’s steadfastness paid off. The next time he took the Navy physical he passed with flying colors, and from there, a twenty-year career with the US Navy unfolded. His condition remained a secret the entire time. Although facing the constant pain of CP was tough, John found it even more difficult to hide the condition from his fellow servicemen. “I made the conscious choice to keep my CP a secret from government officials because I didn’t think they would let me into the Navy. Once this decision was made, I had to keep my guard up at all times and build an emotional wall around myself to keep my CP hidden. It was a heavy burden that almost killed me,” he says.
Throughout it all, John drew from his seemingly endless reserve of internal strength and from the love and support of his family and best friend, Phil (who now works as the principal of Pioneer Middle School in Plymouth and to whom the book is dedicated). When asked about this special life-long friendship, John says, “What can I say about someone who has always been there for me, for what, over 35 years now? Since the time I was 15, I’ve been honored to be able to pick up the telephone and talk about anything with my best friend. Everyone should have a friend like Phil.”
The discipline which John honed during his career in the Navy gave him the strength he needed to write his memoir despite the physical strain of CP which made the task difficult—sitting in a chair for hours at end, focusing his wandering eyes on the screen, and having to type almost exclusively with only his left hand. He was also inspired by some of his favorite writers such as W.E.B Griffin, Mitch Albom, and James Michener, and by his hero, Abraham Lincoln.
“I found that I could overcome many of my physical shortcomings with plain hard work mixed with a dash of determination,” John says. “And, I wanted to write a good book that has a can-do attitude.” Well, John, or “Quinn the Almighty” as some have called you, you’ve done it again—you’ve achieved exactly what you said you would; you’ve produced a deeply moving, refreshingly positive book. Reading about your life makes me feel like I can do it to, that I can succeed in any way that I want just as long as I never give up, never stop trying.
Reader, if you are looking to be inspired, motivated, and charmed, then don’t pass up the opportunity to read “Someone Like Me.” Now that I’ve introduced you to John, hopefully you’d like to learn more about his story, about his time growing up, his time with the military, the physical and emotional obstacles he overcame, and the courage he exhibited every step of the way.
Since the release of his memoir, John has been traveling the country to meet with his readers and to give motivational speeches for schools, organizations, and corporations. A series of children’s books reflecting the various themes of “Someone Like Me” is also in the discussion stage, and John is working hard to get his story up on the big screen. If I know John at all, I expect that the “Someone Like Me” feature film will be hitting theaters soon—very, very soon.
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