Generally, when the words ESPN The Magazine and “spinal cord” are linked, it’s because the sports publication is running a story on debilitating athletic injuries.
But the résumé of John Woock features both prominently.
Woock, a three-time first-team All-University Athletic Association defensive back, was named an ESPN The Magazine First-Team Academic All-American in 2004, by virtue of his prowess in the classroom (4.0 grade-point average) and on the field.
“John is accountable for all he does,” says head football coach Larry Kindbom. “He took upon himself the role of being connected with every player. His peers deem him as someone with the utmost character and integrity. As important, he is both dynamic and capable.
“As a coach, I would go to him to get the pulse of the squad. I can trust him; he is a man of his word.
“He has a plan to make a difference in this world. He is very humble and very gracious and thankful to those around him. He has touched many lives at this University.”
But it’s in the classroom where Woock really excelled. As a biomedical engineering major in the School of Engineering & Applied Science, he studied stem-cell grafts and their application to people with central nervous system disorders.
“I’ve known since I walked in that I wasn’t planning on going into medical school,” Woock says. “That’s why I got into biomedical engineering.
“I had a girlfriend from high school whose stepfather is a senator in Kentucky, and his niece was paralyzed in a car accident several years ago. Now he funds, through laws and political backing, the major spinal cord injury center in Louisville. He arranged for me to go in and work in the lab, and it took off from there.”
In the summers of 2002 and 2003, Woock interned at the Kentucky Spinal Cord Injury Research Center at the University of Louisville.
And last year, Woock worked with John W. McDonald, M.D., Ph.D., former assistant professor of neurology and director of the Spinal Cord Injury Program at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, who treated Christopher Reeve.
In the fall, Woock will attend Duke University, where he will pursue a doctorate in biomedical engineering and work with Warren Grill, Ph.D., associate professor of biomedical engineering. Their research will involve electro-stimulation to restore function to individuals with various central nervous system disorders like spinal cord injuries.
“The potential for this research is unlimited,” Woock says. “There are a lot of amazing people that have had their lives drastically changed, and stem-cell research offers the possibility of changing their lives.
& Applied Science
“Advances in these fields can directly improve the lives of these individuals, and it is amazing to sit there and say that I’m doing something day in and day out that can have a direct positive effect on these individuals.”
But that’s generally how Woock operates.
Whether on the football field — where he led the Bears with 85 tackles (22 more than the next closest player), five interceptions and 10 passes defensed — or in the classroom — where he was named a 2004 NCAA College Football National Scholar Athlete (one of just 15 nationwide to receive the $18,000 post-graduate scholarship) — Woock has a simple goal.
“The drive for me has always been to make a difference, on the football team, in the classroom, in the community,” Woock says. “I established what I wanted to do with myself and what I wanted to accomplish over the course of a semester in high school and carried it over.
“The people here have been amazing. It’s been almost impossible to not be involved with things. They are all good people with good intentions. I’ve had success working with everyone — it hasn’t been because of me.
“The football team’s success was because my teammates were successful. The success in the classroom was because I’ve been working with really intelligent engineers and people that are just as driven as I am.”
Despite all of his accomplishments, accolades, awards and honors, Woock will be taking something a little more intangible from his experience here when he leaves in May.
Born and raised in Louisville, he says that Washington University expanded his horizons.
“I think WashU really delivers an eye-opening view of the rest of the country — and the world — to someone like me who has come up only knowing things one way,” Woock says. “It offers so much in its ability to probe important social and political issues, and it exposed me to so many different people that it definitely had a huge impact on who I am.
“While my college experience has been amazing and fun, it’s really impacted how I think and how I view people. That’s something that will stay with me for a long time.”
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