Half-Marathon Commitment Proves ‘Nothing is Impossible’

By Abby Johnson

John Cancialosi was hit with a great idea while lying in bed. It was 2011, he was in writhing pain from a life-threatening pressure sore and bone infection that had left him immobilized for six months, and he had just learned that surgery was a must, a procedure that would extend his bedridden sentence another twelve weeks. While this type of news is discouraging for most, for John it was inspiration. Inspiration in the shape of a three-wheeled handcycle that in 2015 would make Cancialosi the first athlete to complete a half-marathon on a handcycle. Now he’s doing it again.

Cancialosi had received bad news before. It had come in a more devastating form 30 years prior after a diving accident that damaged his lower spine and left him a C-6 quadriplegic at the ripe age of 20. It was this accident that would eventually lead to Cancialosi’s infection in 2011.

But being confined to a wheelchair for more than three decades has not diminished Cancialosi’s zest for life. There is a positive energy that emanates from him as he sits at his desk at Tinley Park Kitchen & Bath Shoppe, the business he has owned and operated for 15 years. He is happy to be able to run his own company, he says. And even happier to have the opportunity to use his disability to show the children that nothing is impossible.

“They’re young,” Cancialosi said. “We need to show them that no disability or unfortunate occurrence in life makes them less capable of success.”

That’s why Cancialosi is participating in this year’s Southwest Half Marathon as a charity runner for South West Special Recreation Association (SWSRA), a non-profit organization that provides year-round quality recreation programs and services for individuals with special needs. A week before the May 6 race day, Cancialosi had raised $3,865 of his $4,000 goal. And his dedication goes beyond the physical realm: Cancialosi and his wife have pledged to donate $1,000 themselves.

So how difficult is riding a bike without being able to use your legs? When asked, Cancialosi responds so matter-of-factly that another laudable characteristic shines through. One that is perhaps even more admirable than his resilience. Cancialosi is modest. He has use of one bicep, one tricep and zero finger dexterity. Yet he is capable of operating the bike with his upper body strength alone, using his arms as one would use pedals to move the cycle forward. It’s tiring. Challenging. Strenuous. But Cancialosi does it. Because the alternative is not an option.

“I don’t want my disability to prevent me from having a normal life,” he said. He makes a few clicks on his computer and up pops a picture of a kitchen he recently designed for a client. It’s sleek and modern. A telltale sign of his talent and passion. He’s proud.

“I don’t want it to stop me from doing what I love.

The good news? It hasn’t.

For more information or to make a donation visit Cancialosi’s GoFundMe page, www.gofundme.com/south-west-special-recreation-swsra.


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