Professional Athlete Stories

Nickname: John Michels
Your Age: 39
City: Houston
State: Texas
Sport/Activity: Professional Football
Tell Your Story: 
I was living my dream. In 1996 the Green Bay Packers drafted me in the first round (27th overall pick) out of the University of Southern California. In my first two NFL seasons I played in back-to-back Super Bowls, beating the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XXXI. I was named to the NFL All-Rookie team and was the Green Bay Packers Rookie of the Year in 1996. Heading into my third training camp as a professional, I was looking to have a break out year. We lost our third pre-season game to the Oakland Raiders and our coaches were upset with the way we played. It had rained in Green Bay all weekend and the coaches were yelling at us that we better have the right cleats on for practice. I never wore long cleats when I played, but I was not in the mood to get yelled at that day over shoes. At the end of every practice, the offensive and defensive lines did a 1-on-1 pass protection drill. I lined up against the defensive end and took my pass set. He went for an inside swim move, grabbed my shoulder pads, and my right foot stuck in the mud. My entire body twisted and folded over my right knee. I fell to the ground and knew immediately that I was in trouble. I was taken to the hospital for an MRI. The radiologist came out to give me the report. “I don’t see anything”, he said. For a moment I was relieved. He then replied “there is nothing left, you blew it all out.” My heart sank. I underwent reconstructive surgery and began the long road of rehabilitating, believing with all of my heart that I was going to come back better than ever. The following year in training camp was challenging. Every step I took was painful. Trying to push around 300 pound NFL defensive lineman felt like a dagger being twisted within my knee. After practice I could barely stand long enough to take a shower. I practiced on and off for a few weeks, but struggled to play with any effectiveness. The pain was excruciating. By the fourth week of training camp, the Packers broke the news that I had been traded to the Philadelphia Eagles. I arrived in Philadelphia in time for a Thursday night game against the Cleveland Browns. I had never practiced with the team, but played half the game at right tackle that evening. I survived on adrenaline alone. The following week in practice, I was having the same issues with my knee. Every step I took was painful. I sat down with the head coach and told him that my knee was not right. That next week I was released. Over the next two years I had six surgeries on my right knee trying to make it so that I could run without pain. After the sixth surgery, the writing was on the wall that my NFL career was over. It was during this same time, however, that a new passion was awakened within me, a passion for medicine. I took an interest in what the doctors were doing to my knee. I began to read books about anatomy and physiology trying to figure out why my knee was having so many problems. I realized that perhaps my injury could serve a greater purpose. I decided to go to medical school and have a career where I could help prevent what happened to me from happening to others. Medicine has been a long, hard journey, but the focus and discipline that I learned from being an athlete has served me well. I am currently in my last year of residency in diagnostic radiology at Baylor College of Medicine and will be headed to the University of California at Irvine next year to do a fellowship in Interventional Pain Management with a focus on sports and human performance. My goal is to help athletes around the world maintain the highest level of performance that they can achieve while preventing injury from stealing their athletic dreams the way that it did mine. All things happen for a reason. My favorite verse in the Bible is Romans 8:28 which says “God works good in all things…” My hope is that the course my life has taken because of my injury will impact far more lives for good than my life ever could have as a professional athlete. God willing, it will.


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