TGH Exclusive: Double amputee John Coutis OAM on being resilient and ‘living your best life’

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For someone who wasn’t supposed to live past his first day, John Coutis OAM looked in remarkably good health when we sat down for our exclusive chat. Throwing jokes left, right and centre, it’s clear John is a man full of life, laughter and most importantly, resilience.

John was born with a rare form of spina bifida, which rendered his legs useless, but he defied doctors who told his parents he wouldn’t last a day by “refusing to die.”

“When I was born, the doctors actually told my parents I was going to die, that I wouldn’t last a single day. So it was left up to my dad to organise the funeral and the burial and being the size that I was, my dad was actually going to bury me in his shoe box. That was my coffin,” John tells The Greek Herald.

“But then I lasted a day. The doctors said I wouldn’t make a week. A week went by. A month rolled on and I turned 50 last year. And you know where those doctors are? They’re dead and I’m still going.”

John Coutis OAM turned 50 last year. Photo supplied.

It’s this old-school humour when dealing with his disability and some of life’s most important lessons, which has made John the No.1 Inspirational Speaker in Australia and also saw him recognised in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List 2020 for his service to the community and to sport.

But he also has a serious side. Especially when he’s speaking about his traditional Greek Australian family and “one of the first loves of his life” – his yiayia.

“A lot of my Greek heritage comes from my yiayia, who has now passed away. She was one of the first loves of my life. She was the matriarch of our family, the greatest cook in the history of the world. I don’t care about any other grandmothers. My yiayia was the greatest cook in the history of the world and the one ingredient that she always put in her cooking, that you could never see but by God you could taste it, was love. It was just amazing,” John remembers fondly.

“She always had an open-door policy as well. Any time, whether it was 10 o’clock at night or two o’clock in the morning, she would always take us in and feed us and look after us. She was just a pure, pure, wonderful human of love and is dearly missed every day.”

Caring for people seems to run in the family as John also looks out for kids when he visits hundreds of schools every year. His inspirational talks aim to teach students the importance of positivity, respect and resilience, and John says he loves it when his message resonates.

“There’s nothing like with working with the community and giving talks at schools. Every school you go to there’s a lot of different students and if I can help one of those students, one of those teachers even, to think about how lucky they are to have what they have, that’s really rewarding,” John says.

John was recognised in this year’s Queen’s Birthday Honours List.

“I think a lot of kids today lack resilience in overcoming obstacles and I just like to remind them that no matter who you are, there’s always someone worse off than you.

“If the guy with no legs can do what he does, what’s stopping you? So you all need to get off your backside and live your best life. Because if you don’t, I’m going to grow legs and kick your ass. It’s that simple.”

An important message which John lives by and will continue to preach as he rolls around the world on his iconic skateboard.

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