Bodily setbacks have made John Canter each stronger and sooner

As a child in Jackson, Tennessee, John Canter described himself as a nerd and had many aspirations for what he wanted to do one day.

"I've jumped from being an animator for Disney to being a soldier, just crazy - across the spectrum."

John Canter also played sports growing up. He ran cross country and track in high school. Eventually growing up, he worked on cars and went to graphic design college before becoming a police officer in Memphis, Tennessee in June 2010.

"I wanted to choose a career in service," he says proudly. To the best of his knowledge, he would be the first member of his family to become a police officer. His grandfather and great-uncles served in the military during World War II, so serving and protecting others ran in his bloodline. Gallop didn't stop there, however. He wanted to pursue higher goals.

“My goal was to be on the SWAT team. I'm doing that right now," he recalled. He and a classmate from the police academy were training for the trials. At that point he had been working for five years. His teammate made it, but he had to pull out with a promise to try again in the future.

Courtesy of John Canter

These plans were changed at 9:30 p.m. on vember 4, 2016. Canter had just put his then 6-month-old son to sleep. He cracked his neck, which he often did, but this time something different happened.

"It was a little stronger than before, and I felt a pain that made me think, 'this is what a migraine feels like,' because I've never had one before," Canter said. "It felt like the worst headache ever for about five seconds, then it felt like the inside of my head was vibrating."

John Canter initially thought he had broken his own neck. After his wife's sister came to take care of the baby, his wife took him to the local hospital. After an extended wait, a CT scan revealed that Canter had ruptured blood vessels in his head. Doctors gave him painkillers and decided to fly him to Methodist University Hospital for further tests.

"I was only there for the ride. I'm just here," he said. Canter eventually fell asleep and woke up to meet the neurologist at that hospital, who informed him that he had ruptured an aneurysm in his head.

"The doctor said I had Moyamoya disease and that they would fix the aneurysm, but there was a 50 percent chance I could have a stroke. There was also a 50 percent chance that the blood would clot.”

Moyamoya disease is a rare and progressive cerebrovascular disease caused by blocked arteries at the base of the brain. There are two pairs of carotid arteries, and the inner pair shrinks until they are gone. Despite the risks that came with the surgery, Canter didn't hesitate about what needed to be done.

"I said, 'Well, let's get on with it.'"

The operation was a success. John Canter has four titanium coils in the aneurysm at the base of the skull. Canter spent two weeks in the hospital between the intensive care unit and a room in the next unit below. The doctors gave him an overview of moyamoya disease and they had an absolute rule that had to be followed.

Police officer John Canter after his operation for Moyamoya diseaseCourtesy of John Canter

"They told me I couldn't be dehydrated and that I couldn't get dizzy or have a bad headache," he explained. "You're going to be at greater risk of stroke." That possibility depressed Canter, but not because he nearly died. He realized that meant he wouldn't try again for the SWAT team. However, the training he had undergone and the form he had remained in prior to his injury helped save his life.

"The neurologist put it down to the way my body was dealing with the disease. As these arteries shrank, my brain diverted blood into something called the collateral circulation. My collateral circulation was so efficient that I never had a stroke or anything like that.”

John Canter would also have two follow-up surgeries in 2017. He has a large scar on the left side of his head and a smaller one on the right side that reminds him of the experience every time he sees it. After recovering from that, he was ready to return to improving his health and fitness. Canter requested to go to the training academy and this request was granted. After taking slow steps and gradually adding a little more, he was cleared for any type of exercise he liked, but he couldn't push himself too hard. To help with both his personal fitness and professional career transition, Canter would enroll in a class, run and owned by Kelly Kennedy, called Fit to Enforce.

"That was interesting because I had never done anything before her class," Canter explained. "When you have a line that you can't cross but don't know where that line is, it can be nerve-wracking."

John Canter didn't know where the line was, but there was only one way he could find out. Before taking Kennedy's course, he had run 2.8 miles once since his second surgery. He took a moment to fill Kennedy in on what he had been through, and Kennedy promised to keep a close eye on him and receive feedback throughout the course. He found an opportunity to test himself and he took it.

"Two officers from my hometown decided to go for a run at lunchtime and I said, 'I'm going.' They didn't know anything about what had happened.”

They ended up running five miles at an eight-minute pace. He was proud of his achievement and suffered no setbacks. Canter later informed the officers of his trip.

“I really needed that boost. Otherwise I would never overcome this mental hurdle.”

Over time, Canter pushed a little bit by bit. His biggest achievement came last October when he completed a Spartan Super Obstacle Race, a 10K race with 25 different obstacles. Canter has now been with the Memphis Police Department for 12 years and has been an instructor at her academy for three of those years. He trained police recruits who needed physical training once, sometimes twice a day. Canter feels the position comes with a responsibility to set an example.

"I have a hard time telling others what to do without being able to do it myself," he said. "Well, I would do it with them, but I would tell them about my bracelet with phone numbers to call if anything happens. You never know."

Cop John Canter finishes a spartan raceCourtesy of John Canter

He also enjoys watching strongman events and is a fan of Luke and Tom Stoltman. Canter is also a self-proclaimed nerd when it comes to learning how athletes recover and prepare for events. In his eyes, their expertise could serve him well.

"The way I see it, cops are like athletes, except we have a whole bunch of other things to do. If I can get some tricks of the trade to help with recovery. We have to focus on other things like behavioral health, but physical health is definitely a big component.”

The best part of his recovery and life now is being able to participate in fitness activities with his son Bobby, who has started uploading videos to YouTube.

"He has his own weight bench and I bought him a 12 pound medicine ball which he lifts over a sawhorse. The videos all talk about him. They're funny."

Canter shared that he's not directly trying to influence his son, but he was likely inspired by watching him run. Canter probably inspired many people, directly or indirectly, simply by pushing himself and searching for that invisible line. He hasn't found it yet, which means he's only going to get better. Canter hopes others will get in better shape, not just for themselves, but so they can serve their city or country.

“I consider myself a tool in the city of Memphis' toolbox. So I have to be the best I can be," he shared. "I'd tell anyone who's going to do it, don't do it just because they're hiring. It has to be a passion because there will be costs along the way. It's going to be one of the funnest things you can do on the planet. It sucks being a cop.” Follow John on Instagram @aneurysm_athletic. You can follow Bobby's YouTube channel here.

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