Scot Hollonbeck Creates a Better World After a Drunk Driver Impacts His Own

Scot Hollonbeck
Scot Hollonbeck

How do you handle waking up to find yourself living in a bad dream? Do you spend a lifetime mourning what could have been, or do you create a better ending?  The popular e-book entitled  COURAGE: Stories of Hometown Heroes shares stories of people who have found success after a life-changing event like spinal cord injury, including the personal account of internationally-known Paralympic athlete Scot Hollonbeck.

At 14-years old, the last thing on Scot’s mind after being hit by a car was becoming a world changer. He just wanted to live. “After I found out I’d never walk again, I tried to keep myself together and act brave for my family, but I was scared to death,” Scot says. He rejoined life at the insistence of his family and his coaches.

“My coaches kept harassing me to come back to the swim and the track teams,” Scot reports. He started-out taping ankles and rolling his wheelchair around the track, but his swim coach was determined to get him back on the swim team.

Scot explains, “She kept asking me to come-back to the swim team. I knew I couldn’t swim, and I was shy and embarrassed due to the changes in my body. I didn’t want to look awkward, but she wouldn’t take no for an answer. Every time I had an excuse or a reason why I couldn’t join the swim team, the coach would have a solution. She finally wore me down, until I gave-up and went to swim-team practice. I nearly drowned the first time. I was frustrated and learned that pride was my biggest enemy. I didn’t like that I had to have help getting in and out of the pool, but at the end of the day, I really enjoyed it.”

Then the track coach timed Scot’s first lap in his wheelchair and told him that this was his first benchmark, and that his goal was to get better every day. From that first lap, he realized he had a goal and a way to accomplish that goal. He learned that although he was slower than before, he was still an athlete. Scot concentrated on getting faster.

“I began to practice with my chair every day to see how fast I could go,” Scot says. “Then I started entering 5K races. Once I began to set goals and obtain them, I realized that I could have new goals instead of mourning the inability to reach my old ones. I kicked my life into high gear.”

During his recovery, Scot says, “I realized that I’d been floating down the river of life in a canoe, totally unaware of all the benefits I was enjoying in my life. Then, because of the accident, I felt like someone had snatched me out of the canoe and set me on the bank, and I’d now have to be an observer rather than a participant. At this point, I decided that I either could sit on this bank for 15 years and then die (according to national statistics) or find another way to get down the river.”

Scot leading the pack on the track.
Scot leading the pack on the track. Photo courtesy of Scot Hollonbeck.

So, Scot decided to turn his life into a speedboat instead, stacking accomplishments on top of accomplishments.

Disaster is either the worst thing or the best thing that possibly can happen to you, and you have to make a choice in how you’ll face one. Instead of letting his wheelchair become a limiting factor, Scot decided to use the wheelchair to his advantage and reach a level of success about which only few even would dare.

Scot had a couple of strong advantages after his life-changing bike accident due to a drunk driver – a supportive family and interested coaches. Scot remained a true champion at heart and a world-class athlete who refused to become a spectator in life. He decided instead to be a participant. Rather playing the cards he was dealt, Scot took the cards out of the dealer’s hands and created his own winning strategy for success.

From the beginning, he decided to be an athlete; however, there weren’t any local competitions for students with disabilities. So, Scot competed in track-and-field races with runners as the only wheelchair-bound participant, while attending Rochelle Township High School in Rochelle, Illinois. But Scot’s dream was bigger. He dreamed of winning an Olympic gold medal.

Scot Hollonbeck was the first student in the US to race on a track team in the World Championships. Photo courtesy of Scot Hollonbeck.
Scot Hollonbeck was the first student in the US to race on a track team in the World Championships. Photo courtesy of Scot Hollonbeck.

In 1984, while in his hospital bed, Scot watched Sharon Hedrick break the world record in the 800-meter wheelchair race in the Summer Olympics inLos Angeles,California. At that time, he thought that the idea of wheelchairs and athletes was as different as the Atlantic Ocean and the Sahara Desert. Yet, after learning that there was a competition in the Olympics for athletes in wheelchairs, he became more interested in the sport. Scot didn’t have a coach and only learned about the sport through his own research.

Scot Hollonbeck was the first student in the US to race on a track team in the World Championships.

“I trained and qualified for the Olympic team, but I finished last in the try-outs,” Scot says. Four years later, after getting a coach, learning more about the sport and dedicating himself to becoming an Olympic athlete, Scot decided that he wanted to win an Olympic gold medal. Not only did he obtain that goal, but he set a new world record for the event.

There’s a saying that, “There’s no power greater on earth than one man dedicated to a purpose.” Although we may believe that this statement only applies to the able-bodied, Scot proved that it also applies to those with disabilities.

At the 2000 Summer Olympic Games, he placed sixth in the wheelchair racing event. At the 2004 Olympic Games, he finished 4th in the demonstration sport of Men’s 1500m wheelchair. He competed in four consecutive Summer Paralympics from 1992 to 2004, winning a total of two gold and three silver medals.

After high school, Scot attended the University of Illinois where he trained as an athlete and studied bioscience and business administration. He prepared his body to reach the athletic goals he set for himself and his mind for his future as a businessman and athlete.

One of Scot’s goals was to break-down stereotypes, and he’s done that. He believes that each man and woman is an individual and shouldn’t be grouped together as a part of a stereotype. If you look past his athletic record to his career accomplishments, you’ll see that Scot isn’t just one of the world’s greatest athletes, but he’s also a successful businessman.

Scot coaching athletes at an Emory University Training camp. Photo courtesy of Scot Hollonbeck.
Scot coaching athletes at an Emory University Training camp. Photo courtesy of Scot Hollonbeck.

In March 1997, Scot founded Vie Sports Marketing which develops, manages, and executes communications, promotions and marketing programs for a range of clients from the medical equipment, insurance and nonprofit world.

Previously, he was Director of Partnerships and Community Outreach for the American Association of Adapted Sports, an organization that fosters state and national level support for implementation of, and access to, school-based sports programs for students with physical disabilities or visual impairments.

Yet, for all he has achieved, Scot Hollonbeck is a humble, quiet man who deflects the attention he receives to others and assumes that part of his life’s mission is to make the world a better place for everyone. These qualities assure that he’s a world changer. Scot has defeated his own demons, has developed an undying thirst for success and then has used that platform to empower others around the world.

Read the rest of Scot Hollonbeck’s personal story of success after spinal cord injury in John Phillip’s book COURAGE: Stories of Hometown Heroes, available on Amazon for Kindle and iPad at:

couragejohnAbout COURAGE: Stories of Hometown Heroes
Christine Kent was shot twice, run over once and thrown in the bushes behind her house. The fact she survived was a miracle, but to show the true courage of people like Christine, she not only survived but today competes in marathons with her handcycle.

Scot Hollonbeck dreamed of one day competing in the Olympics, representing his country and winning a gold medal. While riding his bicycle at 14-years old, Hollonbeck was 200-yards from his house when a drunk driver in a van crashed into him going 60 mph. You would expect that Hollonbeck’s dream of becoming an Olympian was over, but he trained diligently for 8 years, went to the 2000 Summer Olympics and represented his country in the men’s 1500-meter wheelchair race. At the 2004 Olympic Games, he finished 4th and eventually won a total of two gold medals and three silver medals for the USA.

The last thing you ever would expect from a man born with no hands, no feet, no legs and only a partial right arm would be for him to become a tournament bass-fishermen. But today, Clay Dyer drives a high-performance bass boat at speeds up to 70 mph, casts a bass rod with precision accuracy, takes his lures out of his tackle box and ties them onto his line with his mouth and competes with the best bass fishermen in the world. So amazing are his accomplishments, he’s been featured on ESPN.

This book is full of inspirational stories about some of the most-courageous, unbelievable people you ever will meet, who have overcome tremendous odds to become the best they can be. These people are not only hometown heroes, their lives demonstrate lessons in courage, stamina, dedication to purpose and the never-give-up attitude that all of us admire and want to emulate. Any time you think you have a problem or feel that life has dealt you a bad hand, read the stories of these incredible people.
Get your copy here.

Additional Resources From Wheel:Life on Relationships 

Reconnecting-CoverLowRes240x240Within Reconnecting: Relationship Advice from Wheelchair Users, readers will hear from people who use wheelchairs as they share their perspective on friends, family and relationships including dating, marriage and parenting.

Author Lisa Wells shares real-life examples and success stories throughout the book based on her lengthy career that includes ongoing interactions with disability advocates, non-profit supporters and peer support group members.

Reconnecting: Relationship Advice from Wheelchair Users features interviews with:

  • Graduate student & quadriplegic Ather Sharif about connecting on a college campus
  • Amputee Thomas Morris on connecting through his unique appearance and personality
  • NSCIA [Buffalo, NY chapter] President Natalie Barnhard who connects Wheels with Wings
  • Paraplegic Todd Robinson who explains his family connection through the joy of adoption
  • Quadriplegic Ashleigh Justice who connects on the quad rugby field and as a young mother


About the Author: John E. Phillips
For the last 12 years, John E. Phillips of Vestavia, Alabama, has been a professional blogger for major companies, corporations and tourism associations throughout the nation. During his 24 years as Outdoor Editor for “The Birmingham Post-Herald” newspaper, he published more than 7,000 newspaper columns and sold more than 100,000 of his photos to newspapers, magazines and internet sites. He also hosted a radio show that was syndicated at 27 radio stations; created, wrote and sold a syndicated newspaper column that ran in 38 newspapers for more than a decade; and wrote and sold more than 30 books. Learn more at


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