John Quinn had cerebral palsy and for 20 years didn’t tell the U.S. Navy. Looking back, he can’t believe he pulled it off.
“I never told anyone,” said 48-year-old Quinn, who retired as a senior chief petty officer in 2002 and lives in Tucson, Arizona. Cerebral palsy is caused by brain damage occurring near the time of birth. It affects the brain’s ability to control muscle movement.
“It affects my balance and depth perception,” he said. “I literally have to think about every step I take. If I’m not thinking or am tired, I have a tendency to drag my feet. I’m partially paralyzed on one side. Besides that, my left foot is more than two sizes smaller than my right.”
Here’s background: Quinn was unable to walk until age 4. But his parents, including his father, a Detroit policeman, raised him to believe he could do anything to which he set his mind. In high school, his wrestling coach kicked him off the team until another wrestler got him back on. That wrestler became Quinn’s best friend.
“I lost every match I wrestled,” he said. “I was 0-72, but never quit. My dad told me if you start something, you better finish it.”
At age 18, Quinn tried following his older brother into the Navy. He failed his first physical after being unable to do the “death walk.” With his father’s prodding, Quinn practiced the “death walk” for a year just to pass the Navy physical.
“I feared being found out,” he said. “I didn’t want to be known as a sailor with cerebral palsy, just a sailor. I take greatest pride in having stood every watch, doing everything other sailors did, and serving in some of the toughest assignments.” He was an administrator for three years attached to the Navy Seals.
Almost daily, he said, someone asked about his awkwardness. His biggest challenge was having to pass a Navy physical every four years. “[To get through] took mental fortitude, which was instilled in me by my parents, who expected great things of me,” he said. “This was what I wanted to do and I had to find a way to do. I was very fortunate to serve my country.”
Go read his book: “Someone Like Me: An unlikely story of challenge and triumph over cerebral palsy.”
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