World champion Josh George hungry for success at Rio 2016

US wheelchair racer has put basketball career on backburner to focus on adding to his five Paralympic Games athletics medals in Brazil. 16 Feb 2015 By Rio 2016

“I love the energy of this city and if all goes well, in 2016, I will top the podium and win a gold medal."

After winning gold in wheelchair basketball the last time he took part in a major event in Rio, Brazil, the USA’s Josh George is hoping for more titles next year, but this time in wheelchair racing.

George is one of the world’s leading wheelchair athletes having won five world titles and five Paralympic Games medals ranging from 100m to 800m T53. However, the 30-year-old also used to be a top class wheelchair basketballer and took gold with team USA at the 2007 Parapan American Games in Rio.

He now wants more success in 2016.

“I can’t wait to compete in Rio,” George told on a recent visit to the city. “I love the energy of this city and if all goes well, in 2016, I will top the podium and win a gold medal.

“I have kept on competing because I want to see how far I can go and how fast I can go. Every day I try to realise my maximum potential and I can feel I’m getting better, but I’m still not there. It’s an addictive feeling.”

George, who hopes to compete in the 400m, 800m, 1,500m and 5,000m in Rio, decided to focus on the track after winning wheelchair basketball gold at the 2007 Parapan-American Games. He had already won two track bronze medals (100m and 400m) on his Paralympic Games debut, at Athens 2004, before a hectic 2006 saw him help the USA to silver at the 2006 wheelchair basketball world championships, plus help himself to four golds at the IPC Athletics World Championships. At the Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games he won gold and silver medals in the 100m and 800m respectively, adding another bronze in the 800m at London 2012, plus 800m gold at the 2013 World Championships for good measure.

Favourite sports

George explained that his two favourite sports present different challenges and rewards. “Since I was a kid, I’ve always played wheelchair sports,” he said. “Basketball and running are my favourites and I always got something different from each of them. In basketball, I learned a lot about teamwork, whereas running is much more about what my body is capable of.”

George was in Rio towards the end of 2014 with Olympic sprint star Allyson Felix to participate in a series of clinics to promote sports in under-privileged communities, part of the US State Department’s Sports Envoy programme. And he was delighted to be back in town.

“It’s very exciting to feel the energy of this city’s people again,” he said. “The fans here are always so involved in sport and celebrate competitions in their own unique way. Some of the matches I competed in here were the best in my entire career. I remember one match against Brazil with the stands crowded with fans shouting at full force, singing and dancing, and it was an incredible atmosphere to experience, even though most of them were cheering for our opponents, obviously.”

George also works as a journalist, blogger and motivational speaker – and he certainly has an inspirational story of overcoming challenges to tell. At the age of four, he fell from his 12th floor bedroom window. Doctors considered it a miracle that he not only survived, but learned to interpret his impairment as simply being a different way of doing things.

“Anyone with an impairment should always believe that they can achieve anything they want, just like anybody else,” he said. “You may have to do some things differently from other people to succeed. For instance, instead of walking from A to B, I use a wheelchair. But with a little creativity, everything is possible.”

Postive outlook

According to Josh, his positive outlook is the result of the education he received at home since he was a child. “I believe that what made the greatest difference for me was that my parents never treated me any differently from my brothers. I had all the opportunities, just like them, to grow up and win through in life. Since they treated me as though my impairment was no big deal, I had the same attitude.”

George was recently named as part of the USA’s nine strong team for the 2015 IPC Athletics Marathon World Championships which will take place in London on Sunday 26 April. He is also likely to compete at October’s IPC Athletics World Championships in Doha, Qatar.

The Rio 2016 Paralympic Games will take place between 7-18 September 2016.