The way Orland Park’s John Cancialosi sees it, he’s only had one bad day in his life.
It was July 4, 1982.
That’s when the 6-foot-7, 20-year-old Cancialosi was at a friend’s house.
The day started normal enough for him. By the time it ended, he was a high-level quadriplegic after taking a dive that would change his life.
“Just a tall guy in a short pool,” was how he succinctly described it.
But he nearly died that day. The impact on his body was bad enough but he was drowning until friends pulled him out of the pool and “pumped the water out of me and got me going.’’
He’s been in a wheelchair for 32 years and in recent years decided to take up competing in marathons with his hand cycle, also known as a crank bike. Cancialosi signed up to compete in the First Midwest Bank Half Marathon, which will take place May 3 in Palos Heights and Palos Park and feature runners from all over the south suburbs and Chicago area.
It’s the eighth running of the event and the thousands of competitors who have raced on the 13.1-mile course have all used their legs. This is the first guy in the race who will use his arms.
Co-race director Mel Diab is thrilled to have Cancialosi in the race.
“I’m very excited – running is all-inclusive,’’ Diab said after a marathon committee meeting Friday. “You usually see athletes like these in the major marathons. And you never see them in the half marathons.’’
Diab added that he hopes to someday be able to have a wheelchair or bike division in his race. Cancialosi is thinking of asking another rider to join him in this race.
As of Friday, 1,161 athletes signed up for the two races offered that day – 982 for the half marathon and 179 for the second running of the 10K run.
Cancialosi has done a handful of full marathons in his career and remembers the first time he finished.
“My arms were numb,” he said. “I didn’t know I had them. You also use a lot of shoulder and back muscles.
“It’s remarkable that I can do a marathon at all. I can do a 26.2 marathon in about 3 ½ hours or 3 hours and 15 minutes. But if it’s really hilly, it’s 5 hours and 45 minutes.’’
Since the diving accident, he said he has taken the “Get busy living or get busy dying” quote from the film “The Shawshank Redemption” as an approach to his philosophy of life. Competing in marathons was a way to get busy living.
“I do it for health and freedom,” he said. “I’ve been in a wheelchair for 32 years. Any chance I can get out and experience life from a different vantage point is a great opportunity. It took me quite a few years to find out what fun it could be and the health and physical aspects of it as well as the mental aspect of it.
“It’s you against yourself when you are out there.’’
Ten years ago, Cancialosi and his wife, Vicki, went into business for themselves and own the Tinley Park Kitchen & Bath Shoppe at 10750, Oak Park Ave. in Tinley Park.
When he gets home from the job, Cancialosi can be found working out on his bike in his neighborhood.
There is also a former baseball player who lives nearby named John Cangelosi, who played with the White Sox, Pirates, Rangers, Mets, Astros, Marlins and Rockies from 1985-1999. They have similar names, which occasionally causes confusion.
“Even when people meet me, they ask if I’m the baseball player,” Cancialosi said.
Cancialosi maintains a positive outlook on life, saying that he never had a bad day in his life. Except for the day of the accident.
“It happened 32 years ago and I don’t even think about it. It’s just a blip,” Cancialosi said. “From day 1, I’ve been positive. Nothing gets me down. Nothing.’’