Rosamund Burton heading
Eye on the Prize | Good Reading | August 2009
John Maclean talks to Rosamund Burton about the advantages and drawbacks of being a goal-oriented person.

John Maclean was a fit 22-year-old planning to join the Fire Brigade and become a professional rugby league player when, riding his bicycle along the M4 freeway in Western Sydney, he was hit by a truck. Although a priest was almost immediately at the scene of the accident administering the last rites to the twisted body which resembled ‘a lifeless ragdoll’, John Maclean did not die.

He was rushed to Westmead Hospital with massive injuries and the doctors in the intensive care unit did not think he would survive the night. Later, when he was in a stable enough condition to be moved, he was airlifted to the Royal North Shore Hospital, where he spent the next four months.

The early chapters of John Maclean's second book Full Circle which he wrote with journalist and writer, Lynne Cossar, capture with powerful poignancy John’s transition from what he describes as ‘a cocky young lad’ to his darkest moments in a spinal unit as he realized that he will never again be able to walk, let alone become a professional league player.

But John admits he has always been a goal-orientated person and having achieved his first goal after the accident, which was to survive, he went onto his second – to get out of pain. Then to get the tubes out of his body, and then get out of bed.

When asked what he sees as the message of Full Circle, John replies: See it, believe it, achieve it. The importance of believing in self, and to encourage people to realize that they too can set goals, work towards them and achieve them. I guess I can relate more than most to that, as it has taken me often many [attempts] to achieve an objective or an endeavour.’

What John has achieved since becoming a paraplegic is inspiring. He has completed three Hawaiian Iron Man Triathlons, and on the third attempt reached his goal of finishing the course within the cut-off times for each section set for able-bodied athletes. After that he took on the challenge of swimming the English Channel, and in 1998 became the first wheelchair athlete to make the crossing which, due to the cold water and tricky currents, defeats many endurance swimmers. Other feats include competing in the Sydney to Hobart yacht race, and most recently getting a silver medal for rowing at the 2008 Beijing Paralympics.

But it was the crashed during a wheelchair demonstration race at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games that was the catalyst for some serious soul-searching. With the help of a life coach, he saw his goal-setting and determination to achieve extraordinary physical feats were not actually giving him the true happiness he was seeking. John’s mother suffered from severe depression and committed suicide when John was four years old, and this event caused John to harbour grave insecurities his whole life.

It took Maurie Raynor, the life coach, to point out the profound effect that his mother’s death had had on John, and how the sense of abandonment he felt, despite his desire to have a loving relationship, had meant he had closed his heart to other women.

Today, John's life is far more than just about athletic prowess. In January this year he married publishing executive, Amanda, and he admits he has a far more balanced life. ‘I believe there are four keys to a successful life,’ he says. ‘Belief in yourself, commitment to family, responsibility in your business or work, and giving back to the community.’

In 1998 he set up the John Maclean Foundation, a charitable organization that buys equipment for people under 18 in wheelchairs, or makes alterations to a house or a car to make life easier for the person and their family. After John met Maurie Raynor he was spurred on to focus his energy far more on this organization and it has now raised over $2 million.

John says the book, which took about nine months to put together, has been an opportunity for him to come to terms with all that has happened to him, and he has even managed to contact and meet the man who was driving the truck that knocked him down.

I don't see myself as being any different to any other person. Just looking back on my life thus far there has been a series of hurdles to overcome,’ he reflects. His message to other people he says is that you don’t have to be hit by a truck or to crash at the Olympic Games to have the opportunity to reflect on your life and live it to the full.

Full Circle: One life, many lessons by John Maclean with Lynne Cossar is published by Pier 9, rrp$34.95