J.J. O'Connor, whose life was forever changed after a hockey accident left him paralyzed at age 16, will speak about his path of recuperation and rediscovery of self at the Schaumburg Business Association "Good Morning Schaumburg" forum.
The event will be held at 7:30 a.m. Tuesday at Chandler's Chop House and Banquets, 401 N. Roselle Road. The nonmember event price is $35.
While a high school senior in 1996 at Loyola Academy in Wilmette, O'Connor was skating in his first game of the hockey season when a hit sent him headfirst into the boards. Instantly paralyzed from the neck down and diagnosed as an incomplete quadriplegic, O'Connor's hope would bend, but never break.
After nine months of rehabilitation, he repeated his senior year at Loyola. On graduation day, the three steps he took across stage to receive his diploma were met with thunderous applause. From there, a Chicago Blackhawks Alumni Scholarship, and later, a Lake Forest College scholarship, helped O'Connor to graduate from the college cum laude with a major in business.
Voted to receive the Tamara Lee Welfer Senior Award, he gave the Lake Forest College commencement address. The event was aired on "Good Morning America."
Today, O'Connor divides his time between giving motivational talks to business, civic, educational and sports groups, and co-owning several Sports Clips men's salon franchises throughout the suburbs. In his free time, he retains his faith in medical advances and adaptive technology for those with quadriplegic injuries. He continues to exercise daily on a specialized treadmill, and follows a regime that includes electro-stim therapy, acupuncture and massage therapy.
"J.J. is one of the most determined and most genuine young men you'll ever meet," said Don Grossnickle, an Arlington Heights deacon who chronicled O'Connor's recovery in a new, self-published biography "Unbreakable Resilience."
O'Connor was one of eight "broken neck boys" whom Grossnickle met with his charitable organization, Gridiron Alliance. The nonprofit provides programming, resources and guidance to student-athletes who have suffered spinal cord injuries. The book will be available for purchase after O'Connor's discussion.
Grossnickle was most impressed by O'Connor's renewal and re-purpose gained from personally reaching out directly to the spinal cord-injured players -- often within days after their accidents. O'Connor made friends with paralyzed prep football players Rob Komosa (Rolling Meadows High School, 1999) and Rocky Clark (Eisenhower High School, 2000).
"J.J. felt a tremendous sense of purpose from helping those who would follow with similar injuries," Grossnickle said. "He'll tell you that these experiences transformed his life. It brought him both peace and purpose."
O'Connor is the chairman of USA Hockey's Disabled Sports Sector, where he oversees adaptive versions of hockey for those with special needs. He also works with the U.S. Olympic Committee to promote para-Olympic activities, and continues to visit those with recent spinal cord injuries at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago.