From injury to inspiration

Sep 19, 2013

John Nichols’ first steps toward becoming a marathon runner – and the 2012 Bank of America Chicago Marathon Richard M. Daley and Maggie Daley Award winner – almost never happened. After suffering a spinal cord injury during a waterskiing accident in 1993, Nichols was pronounced a quadriplegic – paralyzed from the neck down.

His miracle began a few weeks later. After noticing a tingling in the toes on his left foot, Nichols underwent intensive physical therapy to slowly regain mobility. Six hard-fought years later, he was back on his feet, having reached a level of mobility achieved by less than one percent of all spinal cord injury victims. Today, Nichols is president of the Disability Resource Group, a disability insurance resource agency he founded.

Paying It Forward

In 2008, Nichols learned that a young friend of a colleague had suffered a spinal cord injury and become a quadriplegic. He offered to share his personal and professional connections, and later announced his intention to run the 2009 Bank of America Chicago Marathon, and to raise $1,000 for every mile completed. “Since my accident, the farthest I’d ever run was from my bedroom to the bathroom,” Nichols said. “I had never run a marathon or even considered running a marathon. For some crazy reason, the offer to run the marathon to raise money just came out.”

Nichols, a resident of Chicago’s Lincoln Park, successfully crossed the finish line in 2009. But, he didn’t stop there. He has finished every Bank of America Chicago Marathon since, raising more than $100,000 for the Spinal Cord Injury Association of Illinois (SCIA) in the process. In 2012, Nichols reached a single-year high of more than $43,000, making him the top fundraiser and Bank of America Chicago Marathon Richard M. Daley and Maggie Daley Award winner. He doesn’t consider the award to be a personal achievement. “Ultimately, I didn’t win the award,” he said. “You know who won it? It was the people who donated to the cause.”

Future Finish Lines

Twenty years after his accident – and now living what he calls his “second life”—Nichols sees the Bank of America Chicago Marathon as a great platform to raise awareness and funds for his charities. “With each year that passes, I get stronger and more confident with my running and more committed to my cause,” he said. “It’s been a wonderful experience, both for my own recovery and for the people and organizations that I raise money for.” Nichols sees the event as a demonstration of the strong connections felt within Chicago. “The marathon brings together the three elements of what I believe make a great city: great public services, great businesses and great charitable organizations.”

As he looks toward the finish line of his fifth marathon, Nichols hopes his achievements will inspire others to use the Bank of America Chicago Marathon as a vehicle for goodwill. “By working together for something that's bigger than all of us, the outcomes will benefit not only this generation of Chicagoans, but future generations as well.”


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The marathon brings together the three elements of what I believe make a great city: great public services, great businesses and great charitable organizations.

John Nichols
2012 Bank of America Chicago Marathon Daley Award winner