I recently sat down with Terri and John Quinn, the parents of Olympian Johnny Quinn, to find out their opinion of their son’s road to the 4-man U.S. Boblsed team, which begins competing Saturday on Sochi at the 2014 Winter Games.
I’ve known the Quinn family for some 20 years. Our kids grew up together in McKinney. We spent holidays together and played tennis together. As our children have gone off on their separate ways as adults, our lives have gone different directions, however, we still keep in touch. It was something of a different experience for me to “officially interview” these two who have been part of my personal world for so long. Although almost surreal, the interview was a joy for me, as it was a more personal opportunity to share in my friends’ feelings of pride and excitement.
One of the first things Terri said to me on this occasion was, “Angie, Johnny has worked so hard for this — it’s been so many years of disappointment.” The “this” is that Quinn has become an Olympian. He is the pusher for one of the bobsled teams preparing to take the international stage and represent his country this weekend.
A former McKinney High football standout receiver, Johnny Quinn didn’t get offered a scholarship to play post high school football. He ended up walking on at the University of North Texas, worked to make the team and then was given an athletic scholarship. Quinn is the University of North Texas All-Time Leading Receiver, and was selected as a 2011 Hall of Fame Inductee and 2013 All-Century Team Member. The disappointment continued after as he tried out for a couple of NFL rosters but didn’t make the team. He went to Canada and played professional football.
But the pigskin has turned into a sled. Quinn found out Jan. 20 that he and his sled mates would be going to Sochi to compete.
My interview with John and Terri Quinn follows:
TSB: Was there a time during Johnny’s younger years when you thought, wow, we have a kid who is a gifted athlete?
Terri: When Johnny was a year old, I could stand about 20 feet from him and I could toss a tennis ball to him and he could catch it. I thought, “Wow, he’s so little and he can already do that!” He’s so competitive and has always been that way. The thing about Johnny was, if there was a ribbon to be won, Johnny was going for it. I don’t care what it is, he always had the drive that if there was a prize at the end of it, he was going for it. And he always got one.
TSB: Who does Johnny take after most?
Terri: We think it’s both of us. John was a good tennis player, a soccer player and a good skier. I never thought I was athletic because I never wanted to be on a team, but I was a fast runner in elementary school. We’ve decided the physical eye — hand coordination comes from his dad, but his intensity and competitiveness came from me.
TSB: Did you ever think that Johnny would become an Olympian?
Terri: He had injured his ankle his senior year at UNT. His tendon was already torn and he had surgery … in time for draft. He got called to the Buffalo Bills, but Unfortunately they cut him before camp. Then he was picked up by the Packers and he was there from January to September, but was the last ones cut after playing in four pre-season games. In 2009 he played for the Saskatchewan Roughriders of the Canadian Football League, then unfortunately, the last game of the season, he blew out his ACL. He had surgery and rehabbed at Michael Johnson (Performance Center in McKinney). He stayed in football shape all summer, but there was no interest from the NFL in 2010.
My counterpart at work Chuck Berkely was one of the bobsledders who competed in the 2010 Olympics. After talking to him, I thought he had a cool story, and I asked him if he would talk to Johnny. A month or so later, he and Johnny connected. Chuck contacted the coach of the U.S. bobsled team, who in turned contacted Johnny in Oct. 2010, asking him to come to Salt Lake City, UT, for the month of Nov. to give it (bobsledding) a try.
His dad and I knew (John nodded his agreement) he had some hesitation because his funds from his NFL were running out. We told him that we would help him with his rent and basics here and that he should take the opportunity to go to Salt Lake City. We encouraged him to go and try it. I said to Johnny, “Maybe you’re not meant to be an NFL player, maybe you were meant to be an Olympian.” That’s the first time I ever said that.
John and I discussed whether he would like it (bobsledding) and I thought, “This is a kid who has never been afraid of anything and it’s got the word `speed,’ so I’m pretty sure he will like it.”
John: Johnny really evolved in terms of his fitness and physical attributes from a football player to a bobsledder in two years and that’s remarkable.
Terri: He ended up going to Lake Placid instead of to Salt Lake because the coach called him at the least minute to fill in because the sled that was about to compete in a few days was 18 lbs. overweight. He didn’t get any training and I remember asking him what that first run was like. Johnny said, “That was the most exhilarating and terrifying thing, all at the same time.”
TSB: Was there a time during his athletic career when Johnny wanted to throw in the towel and quit being an athlete?
Terri: Definitely when he blew out his knee, rehabbed and then the Canadian Football League cut him. Then when September came around, and nothing — no interest, that was a low time. I don’t know how he wasn’t really depressed, but he wasn’t and he never threw in the towel.
John: We told Johnny to stay focused on his dream of becoming a professional athlete. It was a very uncertain time, but we told him to continue to keep his body conditioned and stay focused.
TSB: What advice did you as parents give him over the years?
I always said, “If you believe it, you can achieve it.” He’s heard that for years. If you want it, you need to go for it. The only thing ever holding anyone back is fear and yourself. If you are gonna talk the talk, you’d better be able to walk the walk. Johnny is very humble. He doesn’t like his parents bragging on him. He’s probably dying because he knows we are doing this interview.
John: Just to stay focused on his dream.
TSB: Would you say you would classify yourselves as the stereo-typical sports parents?
Terri: No. We never did the “my kid needs to play more” with any of his coaches. I can remember one time Johnny came home from playing baseball saying he didn’t get to play enough, and I remember saying, “Well, you must not be good enough, so I guess you’re just gonna have to try harder.”
As a matter of fact, I spent Johnny’s entire sixth-grade year trying to talk him out of playing football in the seventh grade. The ground always wins. I thought it was too dangerous. He came home the first day of school in seventh grade and said, “Mom, I’m gonna have to play. I have to play football for P.E. – there’s no other choice.” He loved it and the rest is history.
TSB: Tell us a funny story about Johnny that most people wouldn’t know.
He dressed up in my tennis skirt for Halloween, maybe in the sixth or seventh grade, and won a prize.
TSB: Can you imagine what it would be like if Johnny and his team make it to the Olympic podium?
Terri: It would be awesome. At Lake Placid, I got all choked up. And I don’t know how I will react. There’s something about standing on that podium and there’s no greater honor than to be a parent of an Olympian. John vehemently nodded his agreement.
TSB: How do you think he has been able to stay grounded and focused with all of the media attention?
Terri: Through his faith. He’s a humble kid. In third or fourth grade, his teacher told me that Johnny stopped a game to include a new kid in the class. We taught him to be kind and thoughtful.
John: Johnny is extremely grounded in his faith.
TSB: Johnny has been speaking to groups in McKinney and beyond about his experiences. I imagine that kids in particular look up to him. What’s he like when he is home?
Terri: Johnny is easy going, funny, humorous and loves to laugh. He likes life. He’s easy going and has gotten more of dad’s calming personality.
What’s next for Johnny Quinn? For one thing, he and his fiancé Amanda Hall will be focusing on wedding plans. Knowing him, the words commitment and perseverance will continue to drive him to success with his business, The Athlete Watch, and whatever else he desire to accomplish in life. Hopefully, he will be standing on the podium, part of a team of U.S. Olympic medalists on Sunday. Regardless, I think I can speak for all of McKinney and say we are proud of you. You represent McKinney well.
Go, Johnny Go and go U.S.A!
Editor’s Note: Johnny Quinn and the 4-man U.S. boblsed team’s race schedule for Sochi: Saturday, Feb. 22 at 10:30 a.m. Texas time; and Sunday, Feb. 23 at 3:30 a.m. Texas time.