A sports natural from childhood, in 1988 John Maclean was a promising rugby league player.
During fitness training, while cycling near his hometown, John was hit by an 8 tonne truck. The impact resulted in John suffering multiple breaks to his pelvis and back, a fractured sternum, punctured lungs, a broken arm, and left John a paraplegic. It took astonishing courage and determination, but somehow this near-fatal accident was the making of him. Despite the grief of what he had lost, the excruciating physical pain and the challenges of daily life in a wheelchair, John decided he would become bigger and stronger than ever. He set about proving himself in the toughest events the world had to offer.
In 1995 John made history by becoming the first wheelchair athlete to finish the world's toughest multi-discipline sporting event – the Hawaiian Ironman Triathlon, drawing on all his inner strength to continue to the finish line after falling outside cut-off times in the early stages.
The following year John narrowly missed the cut off time again, this time due to a flat tyre.
In 1997 he not only finished within the cut-off times, he beat a third of the field and became the first ever wheelchair category winner. In 2002 John became the first non-American inducted into the Hawaiian Ironman Triathlon Hall of Fame.
Many more extreme sporting challenges followed, including becoming the first wheelchair athlete to swim the English Channel, complete the gruelling Molokai Ocean challenge (World Championships for open water paddling), and even racing in the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race.
But it was a spectacular crash at the Sydney 2000 Olympics, that led John to deal with the grief and loss he had been denying since his early childhood, when his mother committed suicide.
The soul-searching that resulted, and a spur from his dying mentor, led John to further focus his tremendous energy and determination on helping others. The charitable foundation he established in 1998 – the John Maclean Foundation - is a national scale organization providing support and assistance to Australian wheelchair users under the age of 18, and has now raised more than $2,000,000. The foundation's mission is to inspire, motivate and enable physically challenged kids to chase their dreams and live life to the fullest.
"In business and in life, we all face obstacles and crossroads. While my 20-year story seems like an extreme account of setbacks and facing up to them, the message is not about those obstacles, or how they got there, more about learning to see challenges, or adversity if you like, and welcoming it as a fuel to feed off . Any of the great people I have met have harnessed adversity and turned it into an energy that allows them to achieve so much more. All of us can do that, we simply have to make that choice."
John's book, Sucking the Marrow Out of Life (the title is a quote from the film Dead Poets Society which inspired John), is a first-person account of this extraordinary life.
John's personal mission statement is - "ONLY POSSIBILITIES".
John possesses two traits that set him apart from all others; his humbleness and his determination. I have never met a person with such a strong will and as soft a heart as John. John has presented his life story for hundreds of colleagues at Pfizer in the US and in Australia. Without exception, there has never been a dry eye in the audience after John has spoken. His modesty and determination leave an everlasting impression to all who have the pleasure of hearing his story. Once you meet John or hear his life story, you will have a different outlook on life."
Former President of Pfizer US
"John Maclean's story is an inspiring testament to how tragedy and adversity can lead to triumph and personal growth. To look into his eyes and hear him speak is to know that anything is possible. The language of sports may be universal, but John's journey speaks to all of us in a voice that's personal, passionate and full of fire".
Gatorade Sports Marketing and current Principal, Wasserman Media Group.
A very limited number of people have entered the Ironman Triathlon Hall of Fame. As president of the company, I had the final decision to allow someone to enter...John was my pick and also the committee's unanimous pick to enter the Hall, not just for his performance on the race course but for his inspirational story and how he communicated it to others. John opened doors for challenged athletes to race and be a significant part of the triathlon community. I use John's book and story in many of my speeches and I gift copies of his book to people that need inspiration and motivation. It is like magic when they read it.
Former President of the World Triathlon Corporation (Ironman Triathlon)
John Maclean is truly an inspiration; one of the world’s living legends. His message is universal and profound “No matter what happens in life, never ever ever give up" As determination and persistence is a defining leadership quality, John Maclean was asked to speak at a recent eBay “Speakers Series" in San Jose. Usually our speakers are from the “Valley" and professing the latest findings from the internet and web 3.0. John had a different message and a profound lasting impact on our people. The message was clear, the bigger the challenge the bigger the opportunity. John’s story is inspirational - from accident, to Ironman, to the English Channel and beyond. We are continually being asked when John will be back to tell the tale of his latest challenge.
VP Internal Communications, eBay Inc. San Jose, CA, USA
John Maclean has been closely involved with Express Data over the past 8 years as a motivational speaker, mentor, management coach and values adviser for the leadership team. Express Data distributes technology solutions for some of the worlds leading brands such as Microsoft, Cisco and IBM with our differentiation coming from the experience that our customers receive when dealing with the team at Express Data. At every level we need our people to be strongly engaged and most importantly to be receptive and open to learning and personal development.
John Maclean has an incredible ability to communicate at every level about the potential that lies within each of us and to help people to believe in their strengths and to take the initiative in consciously participating and contributing to the culture and performance of Express Data. As a Hewitt Best Employer we know that employee engagement is a journey and that whilst having strong minds on your team is important, I believe that getting buy in "from the heart" is vital. John will touch both the hearts and minds of everyone who hears his story and will create an opportunity to tap into the strength of a team that believes both in themselves and in the outcomes that they are committed to achieving."
CEO, Express Data