Jon McCullough, 48: Paralympian brought people together in sports

Paralympian Jon McCullough was an all-star contender on and off the field, never letting his disability hinder his success.

“Everything he went through, he never complained,” said brother Jim McCullough.

Known for his bright smile and compassion for others, McCullough sustained a traumatic brain injury serving in the U.S. Coast Guard. The injury resulted in permanent neck and shoulder damage.

“No matter what, he never gave up,” said McCullough of his brother.

He was a starter for men’s soccer Team USA for 12 years, playing in the Paralympics in Atlanta and Athens. In 2012 he carried the Paralympic torch in the opening ceremonies of the games in London, England.

“He was so proud, we stayed up all night just to watch him,” said brother McCullough.

Jon McCullough died Aug. 15 at Atlanta Veterans Hospital, of esophageal cancer. He was 48. A memorial service will be held at 4 p.m. Saturday at the 4-H Education Center in Front Royal, Va. A. S. Turner and Sons Funeral Home is in charge of arrangements.

“Jon was killed by cancer, but he wasn’t beaten by it,” said his brother. He had a conviction that sports could heal and could be used as a tool to overcome struggles and bring people together, Jim McCullough.

At the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa, McCullough was a keynote speaker for the “Man-Up” weeklong summit. He spoke on how to develop initiatives to end violence against women and girls using sports and music as tools.

McCullough also spent much of his time using sports to bring children from different sides of the conflict in the former Yugoslavia together on the same teams and facilitating projects bringing children together through sports in Vietnam and South Africa.

“He was my hero,” said McCullough’s brother. Frequently he put others before himself. “He would go hungry before he would give up his dream.”

In 2013 he became an executive director of Blaze Sports America based in Decatur. The nonprofit provides children and adults with physical disabilities the opportunity to participate in sports to enrich their lives. It embodied everything he worked for, his brother said.

“It was a way he could continue his desire to make sports for everybody,” said Mara Galic, Blaze Sports chief operating officer. “We will carry on his vision.”

The organization has created a special category to recognize him at its annual Georgia disability sport awards Nov. 9.

In addition to his brother, McCullough is survived by his mother, Daphne I. Hutchinson, of Washington, Va; brother, Joseph E. McCullough of Anchorage, Alaska and sister, Katherine J. Hutchinson of Washington, Va.

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