Life lessons

‘If you make someone’s life OK, then your life will be OK’

PHOTO BY NICOLE WALBY Inky Johnson, a former cornerback for the University of Tennessee, delivers the keynote address Friday during the North Central Ohio Educational Service Center’s annual Opening Day Teacher Convocation.

Area teachers gathered Friday to celebrate the start of the school year and hear about overcoming adversity.

The annual Opening Day Teacher Convocation, hosted by North Central Ohio Educational Service Center at The Ritz Theatre, featured Inky Johnson, a former cornerback for the University of Tennessee who became a motivational speaker.

Johnson suffered a career-ending injury in September 2006 against the Air Force Academy.

Throughout his life, Johnson said, education has been vital to him. At age 7, he lived in a house in east Atlanta with 14 other people and slept on the floor. His mother worked double shifts at Wendy’s and his dream was to play in the National Football League.

Johnson played tackle football in the street with his cousins and one day a man suggested they play in a league he coached. Johnson said his family didn’t have money for them to join the league; the coach paid for Johnson and his three cousins to play.

“This is how he operated everyday,” Johnson said. “I wanted to know the individual behind the actions and asked him why he does what he does, to have a purpose greater than himself. He told me that if you make someone’s life OK, then your life will be OK.”

In high school, Johnson knew he was going to college, even though he said people around him were saying it was unlikely.

Johnson said his eighth-grade math teacher and coach built him, convincing him that the words of people who did not believe in him were unimportant.

Johnson was accepted to the University of Tennessee. He said things were great and he was eight games from being a first-round draft pick for the NFL.

He was running a play in a game against the Air Force Academy when a routine tackle changed everything.

A life-threatening injury resulted in a ruptured artery in his chest, leaving Johnson with 350 staples from his hip to his neck and a paralyzed right arm.

“It was a tackle I could do with my eyes closed,” he said. “I knew the play inside and out and when I hit the guy, I had perfect form. It was just a freak incident.”

Johnson said the collision with the other player took his breath away and his body went numb.

“I knew instantly something was not right,” he said.

When Johnson woke up from surgery, he said football, the NFL and the NFL contract he so desired had little meaning for him.

Johnson was given a 30- to 60-day stay in the hospital. He walked out on the third day.

When people asked Johnson how he was able to do that, he said, “I used all the people who believed in me and their level of commitment and dedication.”

Johnson told an ESPN producer he would not change what happened to him.

“I believe what happens does not happen to you, but for you,” he said. “What happened to me, I believe, helped redirect me on the path I was supposed to be on.”

“You have to think about what it is you do and why you do it and where that takes us,” he said. “At the end of the day, who do we become.”

“Never let life allow you to forget why you do what you do,” Johnson said. “People don’t burn out with what they do, they forget why they do it.”

During the convocation, awards were presented and teachers had the opportunity to attend breakout sessions.