Perseverance is one of sports' lessons. But when life taught Josh George perseverance, sport taught him creativity + grace.
Sport has the power to teach all of us how to persevere; among our other experiences in life, sport demands and introduces opponents, challenges, barriers, and boundaries. In order to win in our games, we must find ways to overcome these obstacles. For paralympic athletes, life has already typically required them to persevere; to overcome obstacles, stand strong in the face of adversity, to pick themselves up from the nastiest of falls and keep going.
Our Taste Agent, five-time Paralympic medalist and wheelchair racer Josh George is a perfect example; he fell out of a 12-story building when he was just 4 years old. He punctured his lungs and was paralyzed from the chest down, but he survived the 120-foot fall, perhaps indicating his physical and mental strength. "I stuck the landing," he says with a laugh. Josh is 32 now, and grew up playing sports, but these games weren't about learning to persevere. "Playing sports was like planting seeds to solve problems," he says. "Sport gave me the opportunity to maximize my potential, to work with what I had. And that carried over into life. Once you learn how to recognize opportunities and once you learn how to utilize different tools to accomplish your goals, it gives you confidence in your ability to approach problems in your future and you'll know you'll be able to figure out a solution." And in this way, sport taught Josh something completely different; he learned about creativity and grace.
Josh didn't set out to become an elite athlete; he swam, played tennis and raced track. He went on to play basketball in college and that was when he recognized he had a true talent for track + field. "Kids don't dream about racing in the Paralympics," Josh says, "I was just wanted to get fast for myself. I had no idea that I was at the pinnacle of my sport." And so, instead of desire creating and driving Josh's world-class-athletic dreams, the dreams themselves led his desire. The faster he became, the faster he knew he could become, and the more creative he knew he had to be to break through those barriers.
Josh has raced in the games in Athens and Beijing, and will race this month in Rio. He's won five Paralympic medals, including gold in the 100 meters and silver in the 800 at the 2008 Beijing Games . In Rio, he will compete in the 400, 800, 1,500, 5,000 and marathon wheelchair races. And through his measured success, he still sees and feels a new inspiration in his racing and we're inspired by his outlook. More than beating his competition, George is excited to seek and find his truest potential, and to feel joy in the process.
"Since Beijing I've really come to an understanding of why I race." says Josh, "I race for myself. And while sometimes I put a tremendous amount of pressure on myself to perform, I know that I am always in control. Win or lose, my friends and family are going to feel the same about me after the race as they did before, and it is up to me to do the same. I do that by reminding myself why I race. I race for the challenge of maximizing my potential. I race for the thrill of seeing a higher speed than I ever have before, or a faster time, or a new competitor finishing after me. Win or lose, that's why I race."
Medaling aside, Josh hopes to walk away from the games in Rio "feeling like I have raced the best that I possibly could, and handled myself in the best possible manner." he states, without hesitation. "I want to walk away from Rio feeling joyful and happy. I want to be able to think back on Rio and smile." he says with a smile.
"Limitation abounds in my sport," he adds. "Unlike in able-bodied sport where everyone competing has a fully functioning body, in wheelchair racing each athlete has different parts of their bodies that function and don't function. As a result, on the start line you will have athletes with fully functioning trunk muscles, racing against athletes who can use their legs, against athletes like myself who cannot use anything below my chest. When I lineup for a race I am typically the athlete with the least usable muscle. That is my limitation, and that is what I have to creatively overcome. For me, the answer has resided in constantly refining my stroke (push... equivalent to a runner's stride) in order to maximize its efficiency. I may have less usable muscle than my competitors, but I am going to line up knowing that I can get more out of what I have than anyone else."
Perseverance and grit are lessons worth learning, but we're incredibly proud to be learning how to push limits more gracefully and optimistically through sport as one of Josh's sponsors. His advice to us? "Learn to love the process. If you don't wake up in the morning excited to train, with only a few exceptions, then it is going to be very hard to reach the pinnacle. When you love the process of training and improving, your effort and focus are greater, your creativity is more rampant, and your ability to overcome setbacks greatly increases. Learn to love the process."
Good luck, Josh! We're looking for you to #SkratchtheSummit in Rio!