Just a Springdale guy with one leg and big dreams
Springdale native John Siciliano believes one should never forget where they came from.
He certainly hasn’t.
A Springdale High School graduate, Siciliano overcame a life changing injury that resulted in the loss of his right leg above the knee to become a successful actor, Paralympian and speaker.
Despite his fame, Siciliano still makes time to come home and talk with local students because he wants them to know they can fulfill their dreams, too.
“I’m just a kid who went to Springdale High School (and) had dreams of being an actor,” Siciliano, 47, of Pittsburgh’s Mt. Washington neighborhood said. “To be back to inspire the guys where I grew up — this is amazing.
“These kids, they inspire me as much as I try and inspire them. I want the kids in this little, little town here, our little Western Pennsylvania, to not be small minded and go for the biggest dream you can do. I went for it, and if I can give back and help and show that it can be done, it comes full circle.”
Siciliano on Thursday served as keynote speaker during Penn State New Kensington’s new student orientation.
He shared the story of how he lost his leg, and his accomplishments in the Paralympics. He talked about a scholarship he got to the University of Southern California, about a play he wrote, and his television debut on “ER,” where he had the opportunity to play Toby, a “crazy, one-legged homeless guy.”
“If you can dream it, you can do it, my friends,” he said. “Whatever it takes.”
Siciliano lost his leg in a car crash in 1993, the summer after his freshman year at Point Park University. Before the crash, he was on top of the world, he said.
“I was invincible, like you are right now,” he told the students. “Nothing can hurt me. I’m going to college. Life is good.”
He recalled the crash that changed his life forever like it happened yesterday — he and some friends were on their way to get food at an Eat’n Park when a drunk driver ran a red light, and collided with the Jeep he was in. He had been riding shotgun.
“Next thing you know, I’m on the ground,” he said. “I look up. I see these two demolished Jeeps. The wheels are ticking and all I know is I have to get up and run before everything explodes.”
But he couldn’t.
“My leg … it’s mangled, guys,” he said.
He was taken to UPMC Presbyterian Hospital for treatment. He asked about his leg, but no one would immediately tell him what happened. He eventually was told that it had to be amputated. Doctors tried to save his knee, but couldn’t. He thought his dreams were over.
“I was sad. Depressed,” he said.
Things changed after his physical therapist gave him a brochure that had to do with the Paralympics. It gave him hope. He was an athlete — the captain of his soccer team at Point Park. He thought, “Why can’t that be me?”
He fell at his first trials for the Paralympics and had one last chance to make the team in 1996. During the race, he felt his prosthetic leg coming loose, but was able to finish first, breaking the 200 meter dash record and earning a spot at the Paralympic games in Atlanta for Team USA.
Freshman Jesse Weltz, 18, a graduate of Penn Hills High School, and Allyson Henry, 18, a graduate of Evangel Heights Christian Academy, said they found Siciliano’s talk inspiring.
“He showed us what happened and then what he did to overcome it,” Weltz said. “I really liked how he did that and how he just kept pushing forward, just wouldn’t stop.”
“We can do anything,” Henry said.
In addition to “ER,” Siciliano has acted in television series such as “NCIS,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Scrubs,” “The Young and the Restless,” “Blue Bloods” and “Bull.” He also was in “The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie.” He played Pokey the Pirate.
Siciliano also spoke of the work he has done with other amputees, and stressed the importance of giving back. Later this month, he will start working as an amputee liason and mentor with Union Orthotics & Prosthetics Co., which has a main office in Pittsburgh’s Lawrenceville neighborhood.
“Once you achieve it, you give back,” he told the students. “That’s important, guys. When it’s your time to give back, good stuff will come your way.”
Madasyn Czebiniak is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Madasyn at 724-226-4702, [email protected] or via Twitter @maddyczebstrib.