Overcoming obstacles

Born without arms or legs, SU alum John Robinson tells his story about facing life's challenges.

John Robinson recalled how most of his college days at Syracuse University were spent waiting in lines.

“In college, you’re always waiting in lines,” Robinson said. “Waiting in line for the movies, waiting in lines for games, for textbooks. And my view of everything [while I was in lines] was people’s butts.” 

One day, Robinson was waiting in a backed-up line when a lady behind him yelled, “Hey! If you got off your knees, the line would start moving a lot faster!”

"But I’m a lottery winner folks, [I’m missing] all four limbs."
- John Robinson

Robinson, a 1990 SU graduate, is a congenital amputee.  He he was born without any limbs past his elbows or his knees.

Robinson said that he and his roommates could not stop laughing at the woman’s comment. And that was moment Robinson decided to really get off his knees.

During a speech at SU on Friday, Robinson discussed his recently published autobiography, "Get Off Your Knees: The John Robinson Story" and a PBS documentary about his life that aired this weekend.

“I had no intention of writing this book,” he said. “But people kept telling me, ‘John, you have a story. You should tell it.'”

Standing before a room of more than 100 students, parents and professors, Robinson told the audience about some of his life's challenges.

“I walk into the grocery store and I hear, ‘Mommy, mommy! Look at the little man!'” he said. “Or I hear, 'Mommy, mommy! Can I touch the little man?'”

According to the Amputee Coalition of America, 26 out of every 100,000 births are affected by congenital amputation, and most of those affected are only missing one foot, finger or hand.

“But I’m a lottery winner folks, [I’m missing] all four limbs,” Robinson said with a laugh.

At full height, Robinson reaches three-foot-nine. And he says that those who see his height as an obstacle are right to see it that way.

“Put your elbows together,” he instructed the audience. “Now can you unhook your pants?” 

No one in the audience was able to perform the task. 

“I didn’t learn how to dress myself until I was much older,” he said. “But the last thing I wanted to do was move into Sadler One and say to my roommate, 'Hey can you hook my pants up for me?'”

So what does “getting off your knees” mean to Robinson?

He said it means overcoming challenges and working hard.   Robinson said he never allowed his disability to stop him from getting his degree, from paying his taxes and, most importantly, from being a good father and husband.

“You can get bogged down in your little world, but you got to work with what you have,” he told the audience.

As Robinson’s uncle, Don Morris, said in the documentary, “John is someone who has an obvious reason to be different and chooses not to be.”


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