OPINION: Inky Johnson’s story inspires all student-athletes to face adversity head on

Football player turned motivational speaker Inky Johnson speaks to University of Dayton student-athletes at UD Arena Aug. 24. Photo courtesy of @daytonflyers on Twitter.

Taylor Robertson | Assistant Sports Editor

Student-athletes at the University of Dayton are provided with a plethora of amazing opportunities and experiences. 

On Tuesday, Aug. 24, all student-athletes were required to attend a meeting at UD Arena where we had the pleasure of listening to former University of Tennessee football player Inky Johnson share his experience with us. 

In Sept. 2006, Inky Johnson was playing in a football game at Neyland Stadium where a routine tackle turned into a life threatening injury. Johnson left that game with a paralyzed right arm and a new challenge ahead of him. 

Prior to his collegiate career, Johnson grew up in extreme poverty and violence to a degree where, as he said in his speech, the first time he had a bed to sleep on was when he moved into the dorms his freshman year of college. Despite the circumstances, Inky dedicated his life to sports with a dream to play football professionally. 

On the outside looking in, people might feel that this injury destroyed his dreams and hurt his spirit. In reality, this was just the start.  

Inky now travels the country sharing his story to encourage athletes to realize that battling adversities only makes you stronger. He emphasized the importance of sticking to your word. 

For example, if I say that I want to win the pole vault this year at the Atlantic 10 conference meet, then I need to give my all during every rep in practice. I need to ensure I am recovering properly and eating well. You cannot preach about being successful if you do not put the work in for it. 

Johnson stated that when he joined the football team at Tennessee, he was expected to be a reliable teammate. After his injury, he stuck to his word. He showed up to the team practices, games and meetings. The selflessness in that statement resonated with me. 

It is hard for me to imagine enduring a career ending injury and continuing to step out onto the track every day being reminded of what was taken away from me. The strength it took for him to continue supporting his teammates in the way that he did shows his true character. 

Another part of his speech that really stood out to me was when he was talking about treating every opportunity like it is your last. He asked, “How would you practice if you knew that this was your last week playing that sport.”

As a senior, that opened my eyes completely. Practices are not always fun, but when I sit back and think about it, I used to dream about going to practice in college when I was six years old. I worked my entire life to get to this point, am I really not going to give it my all? Would my six year old self be proud of the work I put in everyday? Once I graduate, how often will I get the opportunity to be surrounded by incredible athletes and mentors? 

As an athlete who battles adversity myself, it was refreshing to hear how someone else handled their own adversity. It was motivating to hear how someone held their head high and used that adversity to change lives. 

The best part about being at that speech was witnessing how Dayton student-athletes handled that situation. The entire arena was silent as we listened to Inky speak. There were a few moments where I would look around and see everyone fully engaged in what he was saying. 

I held back tears the entire time not out of sadness but admiration. His story was almost unbelievable but what was more shocking to me was his spirit and strength. In any time of doubt or fear, I will think back to sitting in that arena and listening to Inky share this incredible story with all of us.

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