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How Johnny Quinn Is Breaking Down Obstacles

By Lisa Costantini | April 16, 2014, 5:06 p.m. (ET)

(L-R) Nick Cunningham, Johnny Quinn, Justin Olsen and Dallas Robinson of USA-2 look on after a run during the men's four-man bobsled heats at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games at Sanki Sliding Center on Feb. 22, 2014.

There are a lot of reasons someone would recognize bobsledder Johnny Quinn. At 24 years old the college football star joined the NFL, signing a contract with the Buffalo Bills. He later played for the Green Bay Packers and then the Canadian Football League before blowing out his knee and ending his pro football career — but not his career as a professional athlete. At 30 years old Quinn became one of only three people to have played in the NFL and competed at the Olympic Winter Games after making the switch to bobsled in 2010 and joining Team USA at the Sochi Games. However, these days most people recognize the talented athlete from Twitter. He was the guy who got locked in his bathroom in the athletes’ village and had to bust his way out. I chatted with the former football star and busy bobsledder about his newfound fame and how he got a shout-out from the President of the United States.

How does one go from being a professional football player to a bobsledder?
A very unique turn of events. My agent represented Todd Hays, the bobsled coach who won silver in the four-man in Salt Lake City, and Todd used to play football back in the day. So in September of 2010 when professional football was over for me I knew I still wanted to compete, so I sent some of my speed and acceleration films from the Michael Johnson Performance Center in McKinney, Texas, where I train to a pilot at the Olympic Training Center in Lake Placid, N.Y. In October as my agent was still trying to find me a football team I got a call from that pilot to come up and compete in the four-man team trials competition — which was two days later. I guess one of the guys was over weight so I said, ‘Well, I’ll come up and compete but I’ve never pushed a bobsled in my life.’ So I flew in the night before the team trials and my first time ever on ice was at the four-man team trials competition and we took third place.

Are there any correlations between football and bobsled?
They are so different. I get a lot of people who want to compare football and bobsled and from a mentality standpoint in football you learn that sometimes you have to play through some injuries or nicks and bruises and you’ve got to continue to produce and play at a high level — same thing for bobsled. There are crashes in the sport, and in my career. I’ve crashed eight times and those are unfortunate situations where you hope everyone is safe but we still have to get back up to the top of the hill and push that sled like you’re going to win, so that’s really the only similarity to football.

How were your first Olympic Games?
To become an Olympian at age 30 for the U.S. and walk in Opening Ceremony, and put on the USA speed suit and compete in an Olympic competition was an unbelievable experience.

Did you have a favorite moment?
At the start block with my teammates — all the hard work, all the dedication, four guys coming together for one common goal — that was pretty special.

Wide receiver Johnny Quinn of the Green Bay Packers catches a pass before a game against the San Francisco 49ers on Aug. 16, 2008 at Candlestick Park in San
Francisco, Calif.

The photo you tweeted of your busted bathroom door was one of the most talked about things at the Games. What was your reaction to that?
Who knew? You break one door and it just goes crazy. I tell you what, becoming an Olympian and being known as the door buster from Sochi has really, truly opened the door to some opportunities. It’s given me a platform to bring needed awareness to the sport of bobsled, and to the reality that Olympic athletes in the United States of America are self-funded. So to shine light on that has been really cool.

That platform is the reason why you started The Athlete Watch. Can you explain what that is?
Because Olympic athletes are self-funded, three years ago I started a small business to help show high school student athletes how to proactively search for an athletic scholarship. We’ve had 120 families come through our program, and a lot of student athletes are getting scholarships. That is something that I have some big goals for. Getting national and international exposure as an Olympian and for that door-busting tweet has really brought awareness to my business, which is to help others at the high school level who have the same dreams I had when I was in high school of wanting to play at the next level.

Your tweet also got you a lot of followers. How are you handling all the new attention?
After that night I picked up an additional 20,000 followers on Twitter, so it was a change in events. That photo has been tweeted more than 29,000 times and seen by an estimated 10 million people around the world. In this day and age when everyone is connected, how important social media is, it’s given me the platform to speak at colleges and universities on responsible social media. Especially for these young adults who are finishing up their collegiate career, they are going to want to enter the work force. And just about everyone in this day and age has a Facebook page, a Twitter page, an Instagram page, so it’s given me the platform to share my experience with social media and the importance of being responsible. Once you put it out there, it’s out there.

I read something recently about you that I thought was too out there to be true. Do you close your eyes when you’re in the bobsled because you get motion sickness?
I do. I’ve been taking Dramamine since I was a kid. Whenever we had road trips in the car I would have to take Dramamine because I get motion sickness pretty bad. So when I first started the sport of bobsled I was taking Dramamine for every practice and once I realized hey, if I’m going to commit four years and stick in this sport I can’t take Dramamine every day, so now I ride down with my eyes closed so I don’t throw up.

You’ve had a couple of experiences since the Games that would give most people a stomach full of nerves. Can you tell us about meeting President Barack Obama at the White House with the rest of Team USA?
That was pretty cool. It was the first time I had met a president, so to shake his hand and give the first lady a hug was really neat. We had a brief conversation about the locked door in Sochi and then when he addressed Team USA as a whole he had a little fun with it, saying they checked all the doors in the White House to make sure they were all unlocked. You know now that the door is fixed and everyone is safe, it’s something everyone can laugh about.

Pilot Nick Cunningham, Justin Olsen, Johnny Quinn and Dallas
Robinson of USA-2 make a run during the men's four-man
bobsled heats at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games at Sanki
Sliding Center on Feb. 22, 2014.

What about when the Denton Police Department SWAT team invited you to come train with them. Did you have fun doing that?
You know those are the real heroes, who protect us and serve us, and just awesome people. So to just train with them, they taught me how to properly break down a door with a battering ram, they let me blow up a door with an explosive charge — that was a lot of fun.

You also got to do something else that not a lot of people get to do. What can you tell us about your upcoming appearance on the TV show “American Ninja Warrior”?
What a challenging obstacle. Out of thousands of people who have competed on that show only three have made it, and there hasn’t been an American yet. We filmed at the end of March and I had a chance to compete in the Dallas qualifier. That will air May 25 on NBC.

That will air shortly after your May 3 wedding. Are you nervous for your upcoming nuptials or did you even get nervous at the Olympic Games?
The thing I was most nervous for was “American Ninja Warrior” because I didn’t know the obstacle course. Going from the NFL to the Olympics, in every situation, I was very, very prepared. So when I was at the starting line at the Olympics or when I was out on the field in professional football that nervous feeling wasn’t there because I was prepared. For the wedding we’re so excited. I met my fiancée three weeks before I began my bobsledding career back in 2010. She’s just been a pillar of strength in my life and we’re excited to get married here soon.

Is she ready for life as a wife of a professional athlete?
PyeongChang 2018 is a ways away so it’s too early to tell. We’re only weeks removed from the Sochi Games and I’m enjoying all the post-Olympic opportunities that are out there, but I’ve got a lot on my plate right now. I am excited for what the near future has to hold though.

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Johnny Quinn