Sean Johnson doesn’t shy away from telling his story. Not about the difficult days he spent in rehab, pushing himself so hard that the physical therapist didn’t know what to do with him next. Not about the gun shot that he took to the back that paralyzed him from the waist down. Not about the amputation of his right leg just three years ago.
Instead, Johnson tells his story with pride. A lot of that is because it is still evolving.
“It’s all about what’s next,” said the 45-year-old West Philadelphia native. “Right now, who knows?”
Johnson, an Air Force veteran, discovered tennis in 2014 through the Magee Rehabilitation Hospital and was immediately hooked. Also a high-level basketball player, he participated in four tennis tournaments and experienced a learning curve like none he’s faced in the past. The challenge of the mental and physical aspects of tennis, and the opportunity to improve and compete, kept him captivated.
“I played in maybe four tournaments last season, and in two of those I got to the finals and lost,” he said. “I never had so much fun losing.”
Johnson has always been active. He grew up playing basketball on the Philadelphia playgrounds, where he learned toughness and developed his standout athleticism. After an infection in his leg forced an amputation in 2012, he began rowing on the Schuylkill River and even tried his hand at cycling. He reached a high level on the basketball court, and was invited to New Orleans for NBA All-Star Weekend. There, he competed with some of the top wheelchair athletes in the country and even met his childhood idol, Darryl Dawkins.
But success on the basketball court didn’t keep Johnson from tennis, and when he had the chance to try something new, he was all over it. There were similarities between the two sports, each helping him improve and evolve in the other.
“In basketball, the first two pushes of the chair are the most important,” he said. “In tennis, it’s about the first push, and about moving around and getting to every ball. It helps my basketball. And vice versa.”
Johnson said he plans on playing more and more tennis in the coming years. He also hopes to inspire others to play sports and stay active, even after difficult times with injury.
“Sports keep me from thinking about what happened,” he said. “They keep me focused on the task at hand and help me work on improving, instead of focusing on what’s in the past.”