By Lindsey Tercilla (4JM)
On the afternoon of June 14, 1993, life as Bradley Johnson (JD 97) knew it changed forever.
Driving to his LSAT in Gainesville, Johnson realized that his tires needed to be replaced, but he shrugged it off. This was the most important exam he’d ever take, and the tires could wait until afterward.
After the test, Johnson’s car hydroplaned into a guardrail. His left leg was instantly severed and his right leg was damaged beyond repair.
“I put the exam before my own safety,” he said. “I thought I was invincible.”
Not long after, he found himself lying in a hospital bed, contemplating what the future would be like.
“I had accepted my new physical state,” he concluded.
“Accepted” might be an understatement. Johnson is a sole practitioner in Fort Lauderdale and he trains for a minimum of four hours a day, three to four times a week in addition to the five to six times a week he exercises at the gym. This regime allows him to compete at the elite level of international athletics in the Paralympic Games.
In September, he competed in his third Paralympics. Johnson’s three-man sailing team raced in London where they had qualified for the United States. Weymouth Bay and Portland Harbour on the English Channel were the venues for 80 athletes in the Paralympic sailing events.
Johnson competed in the 2000 Paralympics in sitting volleyball.
“Sailing offers a different challenge,” he said. “It’s intellectual as well as physical.”
The International Paralympic Committee says the Paralympic movement evolved in Britain after World War II to give war-veteran athletes and others injured in the conflict a forum to compete internationally. The Paralympic Games are for people with any disability, and are held a few weeks after the Olympics in the same city.
Following his 1993 accident, Johnson spent six weeks in the hospital. He looked forward to getting prosthetics and starting his new life. He retook the LSAT and started at UF Law in 1994.
That year he met UF Law Professor Sharon Rush. Rush said that what stood out to her the most about Johnson was his ability to put others first.
This quality, Rush believes, has contributed to Johnson’s success.
“Who wouldn’t want an attorney who was that focused on you and your case?” she said. “He can see the good in whatever the situation is and I imagine his clients really like that.”
Johnson returns the compliment about his education. “The training I received at UF Law was bar-none stellar,” Johnson said. “It’s helped me analytically in sports and law.”
Johnson is a general practitioner of personal injury law and civil rights with an emphasis on disability. He said running his own firm allows him to manage his own time to compete in sailing.
Johnson does not look at the accident that set his life on this path as a tragedy. Instead, he attributes much of his success to it.
Rush sees a lesson.
“I think all of us can learn from Brad to be grateful for the present moment and to be grateful for the opportunities ahead, even though there is uncertainty,” Rush said.