If you told John Woodward he couldn’t do something —say, as a paraplegic, compete in international athletics or, maybe, roof a garage — he found ways to make it happen.
Mr. Woodward, known to many as “Woody,” died Wednesday of a heart attack at Mercy St. Anne Hospital. He was 64.
“He wasn’t a quitter, he really wasn’t,” said Mr. Woodward’s daughter Amber Rahman, 34, of Aiken, S.C.
Mr. Woodward was born July 18, 1950, and was diagnosed with polio at 14 months old, shortly after his family moved from Toledo to Baltimore. Doctors told his parents, Veryl and Phyllis Woodward, that he would not outlive his initial infection. Then they said he wouldn’t make it to 3 years old. Then 5, then 10. Then, that he would never have children.
“He outlived his life expectancy many times over,” said Sharon Woodward, Mr. Woodward’s wife of 36 years.
He lived his life well and fully.
In 1972, only 22 years old, Mr. Woodward traveled to Heidelberg, Germany, to compete in the Paralympics, the international athletic competition for disabled people. There he set records, according to Blade archives. In 1973 Mr. Woodward competed with the Toledo Wheelchair Athletic Association.
He was a competitor in the Stoke Mandville Games in Aylesbury, near London, and his relay team finished second; individually he scored third and fourth in breast and backstroke respectively.
“I’ve always enjoyed swimming — it’s been my only form of exercise all my life,” Mr. Woodward told The Blade in 1972 just before he left for Germany.
Mr. Woodward, who grew up in Baltimore, moved back to Toledo in 1971 for a job. At home he ran a leather workshop teaching youths how to make wallets and belts. He was also an avid woodworker.
Mr. Woodward met the woman who would become his wife while visiting his grandmother, Ethel Woodward, who he called Pete, at a hospital.
His grandmother told him that she had a nice, young nurse he should meet. His grandmother told her nurse that she had a nice, young grandson she should meet.
One day while being escorted to her bed, Grandmother Woodward stopped about two steps short. The “nice nurse” had to holler for help. In came Mr. Woodward. Once Grandmother was discharged from the hospital, the new couple went to dinner.
“He was quite a gentleman,” Mrs. Woodward said. “Even for someone who had to use crutches, he opened doors for me. ... We had a nice time talking.”
They married in 1973 and went on to have three children: Amber, Nathan, and Kevin.
In 1981, Mr. Woodward was one of 32 former poster children for the March of Dimes who traveled to the White House to meet President Ronald Reagan. Mr. Woodward, at 6 years old, was the 11th March of Dimes poster child in 1956.
“He really enjoyed that,” Mrs. Woodward said of his visit to Washington.
In 1999, Mr. Woodward fell from his wheelchair — twice — and broke his leg, Mrs. Woodward said. He was unable from then on to compete in sports. Eventually Mr. Woodward became bedridden, his family said.
“My dad was sick for a long time with various health complaints ... but he never lost his sense of humor,” Mrs. Rahman said. “He never lost his joy of life.”
Mr. Woodward, his daughter said, was a captivating storyteller and loved to joke. He often told people, “It’s really not easy to rollerskate in a buffalo herd,” she said.
What he meant, and showed in his life, was that even though times can be hard, and there will be adversity, by looking at a situation from a different angle you can find success, Mrs. Rahman said.
“He had this joy of life that was inexhaustible,” she said. “I think in many ways it sustained him.”
Mr. Woodward is survived by his wife, Sharon; sisters, Linda Morris and Jill Meyers; daughter, Amber Rahman; son, Nathan Woodward, and four grandchildren.
He was preceded in death by his son Kevin.
The family will receive visitors from 4 to 8 p.m. Wednesday at Newcomer Funeral Home, 4150 W. Laskey Rd. A funeral will be at 10:30 a.m. Thursday in the mortuary.
The family suggests tributes to the March of Dimes.