When John Canter was a kid in Jackson, Tennessee, he described himself as nerdy, and he had many ambitions for what he wanted to do when he grew up.
“I would bounce back and forth from an animator for Disney to a soldier, just crazy – all over the spectrum.”
John Canter also played sports growing up. He ran in cross country and track in high school. When he finally grew up, he worked on cars and went to college for graphic designing before he became a police officer in Memphis, Tennessee in June 2010.
“I wanted to choose a career in service,” he said proudly. To the best of his knowledge, he would be the first member of his family to become a cop. His grandfather and great uncles did serve in the military during World War II, so service and protecting others was in his bloodline. Canter didn’t stop there, though. He wanted to pursue higher goals.
“My goal was to be on the SWAT team. That’s what I’m doing,” he recalled. He and a classmate from the police academy were training for the tryouts. By this time he had been working for five years. His teammate made it, but he had to bow out with the commitment to try again in the future.
Those plans changed on Nov. 4, 2016 at 9:30 PM. Canter had just put his then 6-month old son to sleep. He popped his neck, which was something he did often, but this time something else happened.
“It was a little more forceful than I had done it before, and I felt a pain that made me think ‘that is what a migraine feels like’ because I never had one before,” said Canter. “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 that he had broken his own neck. After his wife’s sister came to watch the baby, his wife rushed him to the local hospital. After an extended wait, a CT scan determined Canter ruptured blood vessels in his head. The doctors gave him pain medicine and opted to fly him to Methodist University Hospital for further testing.
“I was just along for the ride. I’m just here,” he said. Canter eventually went to sleep, and he woke up meeting the neurologist at that hospital, who informed him that he ruptured an aneurysm in his head.
“The doctor said I had Moyamoya disease, and that they were going to go in and repair the aneurysm, but there is a 50 percent chance I could have a stroke. There was also a 50 percent chance the blood could clot.”
Moyamoya disease is a rare and progressive cerebrovascular disorder caused by blocked arteries at the base of the brain. There are two pairs of carotid arteries, and the inner pair shrink until they are no longer there. In spite of the risks that came with the surgery, Canter had no hesitation 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 inside the aneurysm at the base of his skull. Canter spent two weeks in the hospital between the ICU and a room in the next unit below that. The doctors gave him a rundown about Moyamoya Disease, and they had one absolute rule that had to be followed.
“They told me I can’t be dehydrated and that I couldn’t get dizzy or major headaches,” he explained. “You’re going to be at a greater stroke risk.” That possibility depressed Canter, but not because he almost died. He realized that meant he wouldn’t get to try out for the SWAT team again. However, the training he had went through and the shape he stayed in leading up to his injury actually helped save his life.
“The neurologist attributed that to the way my body handled the disease. When those arteries shrunk, my brain rerouted the blood in what they call 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 those, he was ready to get back to improving his health and his fitness. Canter requested to go to the training academy, and that request was granted. After taking slow steps and gradually doing a little more, he got cleared to do any type of exercises he liked, but he couldn’t push himself too hard. To help both his personal fitness and his professional career change, Canter would sign up for a course called Fit to Enforce, which is run and owned by Kelly Kennedy.
“That was interesting because I had never done anything prior to taking her course,” Canter explained. “When you have a line that you can’t cross, but you don’t know where that line is, it can be nerve-racking.”
John Canter didn’t know where the line was, but there was only one way he was going to find out. Prior to taking Kennedy’s class, he had ran 2.8 miles once since his second surgery. He took a moment to fill Kennedy in on what he had been through, and Kennedy vowed to keep a close eye on him and get feedback during the course. He found an opportunity to test himself, and he took it.
“Two officers from my hometown chose to go on a run during a lunch break, and I was like ‘I’ll go.’ They didn’t know anything about what had happened.”
They ended up running five miles at an eight-minute pace. He was proud of himself for the accomplishment, and he suffered no setbacks. Canter later filled the officers in on his journey.
“I really needed that push. Otherwise, I was never going to get over that mental hurdle.”
As time went by, Canter kept pushing himself a little at a time. His biggest accomplishment came last October when he completed a Spartan Super Obstacle Race, a 10k race that includes 25 different obstacles. Canter has now been with the Memphis Police Department for 12 years, and has been an instructor at their academy for three of those. He trained police recruits that had to go through physical training once, sometimes twice a day. Canter feels that position comes with responsibility to serve as an example.
“I have a hard time telling others what to do without being able to do it myself,” he stated. “So, I would do it with them, but I’d tell them about my bracelet with phone numbers to call in case something happens. You never know.”
He also enjoys watching strongman events and is a fan of Luke and Tom Stoltman. Canter is also a self-proclaimed nerd for 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 to do a whole bunch of other stuff. If I can get some tricks of the trade to help recover. We have to focus on other things such as behavioral health, but physical health is definitely a big component.”
The best part of his recovery and life now is that he can take part in fitness activities with his son, Bobby, who has started uploading videos onto YouTube.
“He has his own weight bench, and I bought him a 12-pound medicine ball that he lifts up over a sawhorse. The videos are all him talking. They are funny.”
Canter shared that he doesn’t directly try to influence his son, but he likely has been inspired by watching him run. Canter has likely inspired many people, either directly or indirectly, just by pushing himself and searching for that invisible line. He hasn’t found it yet, which means he will keep getting better. Canter hopes others will get in better shape, not only for themselves, but also so they can serve their cities or country.
“I consider myself a tool in the toolbox for the city of Memphis. So, I need to be the best I can be,” he shared. “I would tell anybody that is going to do it, don’t do it just because they are hiring. It has to be a passion because there will be a cost along the way. It’s going to be one of the most fun things you can do on the planet. It’s an absolute blast to be a cop.” Follow John on Instagram @aneurysm_athletic. You can follow Bobby’s YouTube channel here.