Turning Injury into Inspiration: The Incredible Story of World-Famous Motivational Speaker Inky Johnson
Picture this: It’s a day like any other. You’re living your dream — mastering a sport that’s been your refuge from a tumultuous childhood, poverty-stricken streets, and your own internal battles. You love everything about what you do, from the smell of the grass on the field to the way the sun hits the top of the stands to the rush you get when you score yet another touchdown.
This is your life. Every day you practice, clearly envisioning your future glory with a sense of excitement. You’ve worked hard, and it shows. You’re riding the wave to the peak of your career — to being a world-class athlete. Everyone knows that’s your future. It’s destined.
On this ordinary day, you make a routine tackle that’s just like every other tackle you’ve made before. But for some inexplicable reason, something goes terribly wrong. Everything goes black. When you wake up, you’re surrounded by doctors, the chaos of an emergency room, and bright, blaring lights.
Your football career is over.
Inky Johnson’s Injury Taught Him About Overcoming Adversity
This is the story of Inky Johnson. It’s a story of grief and loss, and it’s one of overcoming adversity.
The talented football player had a bright future ahead of him when the unthinkable happened — a routine tackle led to a major injury, left his arm paralyzed, and dramatically ended his career in mere moments. But instead of being defined by this loss, he used it as fuel for an inspiring career as a motivational speaker. By shifting his perspective, he found hidden blessings in his situation.
Inky was used to facing challenges. Growing up in poverty outside of Atlanta, he was one of sixteen people who shared a tiny, two-bedroom home in a rough neighborhood. He didn’t have his own bed to sleep in. Rather, he took turns, sleeping on a mattress on the floor most nights and getting to sleep in a bed once a week.
He always excelled at sports, whether it was football, baseball, basketball, or track and field. His life changed when a mentor took him under his wing and helped him develop into a star athlete at the University of Tennessee.
Projected to be a Top 30 Draft Pick by his junior year, he was doing well academically and appeared to be on track to a covetable future. But a fourth quarter tackle ended with him being carried off the field in a stretcher while a silent stadium watched.
After his injury, Inky found himself back in the same neighborhood he’d fought so hard to get out of with almost no money to his name and a pregnant girlfriend. One can only imagine that in those moments, he may have wondered what on earth he could do to overcome the loss and find hope and purpose once again. However, by accepting what happened and accepting his fate, he actually opened the door to an incredible career he never saw coming.
Inky’s Story Is Everyone’s Story
Haven’t we all felt some rendition of this kind of loss? It’s not always so dramatic, but let’s face it — life is full of unexpected surprises, and they’re not all happy ones. Maybe we get an earth-shattering medical diagnosis that we never saw coming. Maybe we fall out of love with our spouse who we believed we’d be with forever. Maybe it’s the job we lost during the pandemic, the one we worked our whole lives to prepare for.
You never think those things can happen to you, until they do.
And in those moments, it can feel impossible to accept what’s changed, but we have no choice.
However, even when you can’t change your circumstances, you can change your perspective. This perspective shift is what separates the people who become bitter and disenchanted with life from those who flow with change and understand that it’s a miracle just to be alive. It builds character.
Besides making us tougher, it’s the challenging times that shape us into stronger and more compassionate beings.
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Accepting a Career-Ending Injury
In a famous speech, Inky describes how when he first faced what had happened, he “argued” with God about it. He begged to be able to play again. He told God that he was right there — he’d gotten so far, he was on the cusp of success, so couldn’t he just heal so he could continue the career he’d always dreamed of?
But God, Inky shared, told him to trust him. He told him to have faith — that there was a plan for him, another route for him to take.
One can only imagine that this was hard to swallow at first. The death of something precious to you is a tumultuous time, especially if you don’t know what it’s going to be replaced with. There’s a groundlessness to it, a natural instability and feeling of worry about the future. However, this process, while uncomfortable, is natural.
“Every positive change — every jump to a higher level — involves a rite of passage. Each time, to ascend to a higher rung on the ladder of growth, we must go through a period of discomfort or adversity.” – Inky Johnson
Inky survived his loss by putting one foot in front of the other. He focused on surviving what was happening, not trying to fight against it. No doubt, he learned some very challenging but potent life lessons about acceptance.
“Peace is the result of retraining your mind to process life as it is, rather than as you think it should be.” – Inky Johnson
Now Inky is making people’s lives better all around the country by helping them navigate loss and find blessings in their situations. This life-affirming, soul-fulfilling work brings him joy, and if he hadn’t had his injury, he wouldn’t be doing it.
Finding Blessings in Disguise
Inky was able to find faith in a path he couldn’t see before him, but he could have easily gone another way.
He could have taken the route many people do — become bitter and resentful about his bad luck, feel like a victim the rest of his life, and cultivate hatred for others and themselves. We’ve all seen people like that. Maybe we’re like that. If so, know that we can still choose to write a new story.
We can learn from Inky — we all have a choice, and it all begins with mindset. We either focus on the loss forever, or we process it and open to the blessings and opportunities in store for us.
“The ability to learn is a gift even when pain is your teacher.” – Inky Johnson
Of course that’s easier said than done. When we’re in the midst of a tragedy, it can feel impossible to see any good coming from it. It’s important to honor our feelings in those moments in healthy ways like going to therapy, talking to friends, and taking care of our minds, bodies, and spirits.
However, we can honor feelings like loss and grief while still remaining open to the possibility that there are hidden blessings we’ll gain out of a painful situation.
Hard Work Trumps Luck
We’ve seen that we have a choice when it comes to how we look at a loss. We also have a choice when it comes to committing to our goals, even when it’s hard. When it comes to success, making a consistent effort will get you further than innate talent, resources, or luck.
Inky has shared that he never considered himself to have the most abundance in many areas of life. What he did have was a strong work ethic. That’s what drove his success as a football player and in his transformational work.
Join In 200 Million+ On The Journey to Greatness
We all make promises to ourselves or resolutions when we’re feeling inspired, confident, and excited. But what happens when things start going awry? What happens when we’ve had a bad day or a bad month or when we feel doubts and hesitations creeping in?
To be successful, we have to show up for our commitments every day, whether it’s football practice or our desire to be our best selves. For example, we might say we want to transform our negative patterns into healthier ones, such as being more compassionate and listening to others. Maybe we made that promise to ourselves in a powerful moment.
You Can Survive Challenges
No one ever said life was easy. We’re often met with challenges that appear out of nowhere and leave us dazed, wondering how on earth we’re going to start over. There are some things we cannot change — we have to accept life on life’s terms. As frustrating as that is, there’s a way to flow with these experiences and find our way to new, unexpected, potentially life-changing positive paths. We just have to change how we look at things. Focusing on blessings and making a choice, day after day, to commit to growth is the secret to turning setbacks into successes.
Here’s to taking back control of your behavior and your life!