Destrehan High grad finds new passion in the wake of misfortune

John Sweeney

Back injury ended his time on the gridiron, but he persevered

One of John Sweeney’s passions was ripped away from him prematurely, but he refused to let it defeat him. He found a different path, and opened the doors to a new world of accomplishment.

That passion was his love of the gridiron. Playing middle linebacker during his sophomore year, Sweeney tackled a ball carrier, but a teammate arrived to deliver his own blow to that runner at the same time. It bent Sweeney backwards, in the process seriously injuring his back — it caused a disc to slip, pinching a nerve, and the wrong kind of hit could cause that injury to have dire consequences.

His football career, in a flash, was over.

“The doctor said it would be way too dangerous to play again,” Sweeney said. “It’s still excruciating sometimes. It was really heartbreaking for me when I got the news.”

Sweeney underwent surgeries and spent some time at home rehabilitating. He didn’t want to let go of the game he loved at first, nor the bond he had with his teammates.

“That happened at the end of my sophomore year, but I stayed around the team, on the sideline, into the beginning of my junior year,” he said. “I wanted to give my support because to me, those are all my brothers out there.”

Ultimately, he accepted the need to find another outlet for his competitive drive. It came in the form of bodybuilding, something he investigated after forming a bond at his gym, Anytime Fitness, with its then-trainer Nate Douglas, who participated in the sport himself.

“The best part came after, to me at least … eating the food again! It tastes so much better after.”— John Sweeney

It became a great fit for Sweeney, who noted that pushing himself to excel in the weight room was one of his favorite parts of his playing days.

“Hitting the weight lifting room and getting stronger for game day, I really loved it,” Sweeney said.

His first bodybuilding competition was this month. To ready himself for it, he did eight months of general preparation, then shifted his attention to more specific goals, moving to close to five months of bulking up, and then the truly difficult, but most critical part: three months of cutting down. Ultimately, he got himself down to four percent body fat.

“You can’t eat any bad foods. My family was surprised I was able to do it,” said Sweeney with a chuckle. “I’m known as an eater. But I had the drive and passion for this.”

He was nervous at first, he said, but as the day of competition went on he began enjoying the ride.

John Sweeney

“I learned to chill and have fun with it,” he said. “The best part came after, to me at least … eating the food (again)! It tastes so much better after. My family cooked so much, it was awesome.”

Sweeney’s got a vision for himself in the classroom as well. He’s headed to the University of Louisiana-Lafayette, where he’s done early orientation already, and will pursue a degree in petroleum engineering. He follows in the footsteps of his grandfather, who was an engineer himself. He chose petroleum because it should enable him to find work close to home, given the strong industrial landscape of St. Charles Parish. Sweeney has already begun earning engineering credits through his work with the engineering course at St. Charles Parish’s Satellite Center.

His respect for his grandfather was part of why he was keen for the field, but he’s also a natural when it comes to science and math, his strong suits. He earned first place science fair honors in back to back years to end middle school, then carried that with him to DHS where he captured first place in its science fair. Sweeney’s earned several awards and recognitions for his engineering and chemistry course work.

He also has begun working toward becoming a personal trainer, and hopes to earn his personal training license this summer.

“I’ve always loved helping people in different ways at the gym, and it’s been rewarding and a way I’ve made a lot of new friends,” Sweeney said. “I know pretty much everyone there … we all talk, update each other on our lives, and it’s kind of its own community.”

John Sweeney

  • Earned DHS Outstanding Achievement for the ROARS Expectation and the Advanced Drafting Technology Student of the Year honor in his junior year. Also earned the Autodesk Certified User in Auto Cad, NCCER Site Safety certificate and NCCER Core Credential, as well as several other achievement awards.
  • Will attend UL-Lafayette to follow in footsteps of grandfather in pursuit of engineering degree; grandfather graduated from LSU Mechanical Engineering program in 1965.
  • After back injury forced him away from football, found new passion for bodybuilding, and took part in his first competition in April.
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