A Conversation with Paralympian Josh George


Of all the words Josh George said, this idea struck me the most:

We’re all given one body and we’re all skilled at different things. And everyday we have these creative problems to solve. For me, purely getting faster and doing what I can do each day to get faster is my motivation.

Josh George is much more than a high-performing athlete but don’t be mistaken, he is a high-performing athlete. The soon-to-be four time Paralympian brought home medals from Athens, Beijing and London1 and is headed to Rio next month seeking more hardware. The winner of multiple marathons including Chicago, Los Angeles, Minneapolis and London speaks passionately when talking about his love of wheelchair racing. He describes the intricacies of racing to me in a way that suggests each one is more of a complex puzzle to solve than simply a long race to win. I ask George which marathon is his favorite and he starts with Chicago telling me it’s fun because it’s flat and you find yourself in these packs of racers where much of the challenge is about the strategy of when and how to break away. He talks about the New York City Marathon and the grind of crossing all five boroughs and conquering an incredibly hilly course. And he describes the London Marathon as a flat course with lots of turns and amazing, historic sites. Josh’s enthusiasm as he describes each city tells me they’re all his favorite; every competition fuels his goal to be the best at what he does. The medalist, world champion and motivational speaker personifies the idea that each of us should maximize the body, and the life, we’re given.

Josh George is headed to Brazil for his fourth Paralympic Games. But before he represents the United States in Rio George will host the Roll to Rio2 event in Champaign, Illinois on Sunday, August 14th. The Roll to Rio, which starts at 4:00PM, begins at West Side Park with rally goers slow rolling through town with a police escort on bikes, skateboards, kick scooters, wheelchairs and more. The day finishes up at The Accord where people will have the chance to cheer on the Paralympians before they head to the games in Rio. Why host the rally in middle-Illinois? Because, as Josh tells me, the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign has a rich history of accessibility and “a community that is open and accepting of what we are doing.” The university, a recently designated U.S. Paralympic Training Site, hosts para-athletes like George who train for the biggest competitions across the globe. When Josh was asked to be the focal point of a nationally televised BMW advertisement it seemed completely natural for the crew–who he worked with over nine hours–to film in the rural back roads and cornfields of Champaign rather than a backlot in Los Angles. The roads they filmed on were, after all, the very ones he spent countless hours training on. George describes the shoot as a truly amazing experience. The outcome is a sixty-second spot that evokes emotion both with stunning visuals and simple, powerfully spoken words.

Josh George’s involvement with this sleekly designed, high-performing racing wheelchair hasn’t been limited to his time filming the commercial in Champaign. He told me that BMW wanted to help develop tech for the Summer Games so the self-motivated athlete went out to LA and pitched the idea of focusing their efforts on wheelchair racing. Josh presented the BMW team with the opportunity to rethink what racing wheelchairs could be and should be–challenge accepted. They coupled the insights that come from his real world racing experiences with some of the best designers and engineers in the business to develop the ultimate racing wheelchair. It’s that wheelchair and the wont to continue his successful athletic career that brings us back to Rio and the next chapters of his story.

Fans from around the globe are embracing the Olympic Games in Rio–names like Phelps, Ledecky, Walsh Jennings and Biles have captured our collective attention across the United States. But I wonder, how much can their fellow athletes watch while also focusing on their upcoming trials, heats, meets and competitions? “I’ve been watching as much of the olympics as possible. This is when it all becomes real–it’s exciting!” says George, who seems ready to land in Rio and take it all in for himself. The Paralympic Games along with all of Josh George’s other unique experiences have led him to the important message that he now spreads whenever he gets the chance.

His Maximize Your Potential campaign embodies the words that struck me the most when I looked back at our conversation. When “we’re all given one body” it’s up to each of us to make the most of it. When “we have these creative problems to solve” it’s up to each of us to push our minds and bodies to solve those problems. Where did that message come from? As Josh tells it, the idea evolved a few years ago after a couple down years of racing. The question he kept coming back to–why do I keep racing? And the answer, as simple as it may seem, gave rise to this Maximize Your Potential campaign. George recalls that answer succinctly: “I didn’t feel like I had met my potential. So it clicked.” Of course it meant the palpable need to bring out in others what he has long brought out in himself.

Like wheelchair racing champion Josh George, each of us have incredible potential. We won’t all land in Rio this summer but we are each given a mind and body with which to make a difference–to help those in need, to raise caring families, to lead successful careers, to win at life. Before we finished talking I asked Josh for some advice to those of us still searching for the motivation to achieve greatness. “I’d tell that person to take a step back and ask themselves what they love about what they’re doing. Refocus on that initial desire and love.” His hopefulness for us all is inspiring and his own desire and love of competition tells me he’ll dominate in Rio and succeed wherever else his journey takes him.

Found It:
Josh George1
University of Illinois Alumni Association2



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