Racer Profile: Joshua George, a Modest Competitor

By Katherine Tamola

BU News Service

I enjoy teasing Joshua George about his affinity for Korean pop music.

Sure, he’s a world-renowned athlete, a loyal brother and son, but he’s also so charismatic that one immediately feels at ease and comfortable in his presence.

George is racing in this year’s Boston Marathon.

Graduating from the University of Illinois with a journalism degree, George is still an avid writer.  His favorite color is green. On most days, his preferred food is hamburgers. However, if he is feeling especially fancy, he would love a plate of foie gras (a French food made of the liver of duck or goose). Although it sounds arguably repulsive, George swears by it, promising that anyone who tries it will be changed forever.

“If you ever see it on a menu, you have to get it. It’s buttery and delicious. It’s really, really, really good,” George laughed.

The athlete is a big Mel Brooks fan, and enjoys The Big Labowski, work by the Cohen Brothers, Black Swan, The Wrestler, or as he described, “you know, all that depressing stuff.” He also loves seeing various movies in theaters.

George grew up in Herndon, Virginia. He is the oldest of three children, and has a younger brother and younger sister. Growing up, his dad worked in financial advising, and his mom worked at home, helping to raise her children and encourage their budding athletic careers.

George has raced in countries throughout the world.  He cannot recall how many marathons he’s participated in, saying he has “no idea,” but that the number is “probably in the 50s.”

Some of his most memorable marathon trips have been to California, Columbia (a marathon where he happened to come in first), Switzerland, and Australia. He also traveled to the Seoul Marathon and learned about the culture of Korean pop, affectionately referred to as “K-pop” by the locals. George often blogs about these experiences on his website, www.joshgeorgeracing.com. He has also blogged for The New York Times.

He roots for most D.C. teams, including the Washington Redskins, Capitals, and Wizards. Athletes George admires include Tim Duncan of the NBA, tennis star Roger Federrer, and South African athlete Krige Schabort, world record holder in wheelchair division of the Ironman triathalon. George describes Schabort as “an incredible athlete, and an incredible person.”

His music taste is “constantly fluctuating,” receiving much direction from his younger sister who studies music therapy at Temple University. In regards to phobias, George absolutely hates needles. He also says that he will not swim in any water that has been inhabited by sharks. He enjoys literature by David Foster Wallace and Richard Powers. He loves Ronald Dahl.

One of his favorite quotes is, “Let not our best days be behind us.” In an interview, George spoke of the importance of relaxation and level-headedness. He also said that one of his strongest character traits is his ability to stay even-keeled.

“You can’t waste a lot of emotional energy getting upset about stuff that’s already happened. I try to be solution-based.”

George has been solution-based for quite some time. It is arguably important to note that George has been in a wheelchair since the age of four.

He explained that in May of 1988, as he and his family lived in a high-rise just outside of Washington D.C., he was walking on his windowsill, and fell 12 stories.

“That must have been really hard for you.” I said.

“Uh, not really,” George said.  “It was hard on my parents. I mean, I had young parents, they had two kids, and one of them fell out of a window. They handled it phenomenally, phenomenally well.”

“For me personally, it wasn’t really a big deal. I had only been walking 3 out of those 4 years.”

George exhibits a unique and immense sense of humility. He will not share or harp on the fact that he’s won four Paralympic medals, including a gold medal in Bejing’s 2008 games.

Even after extensive interviews, he neglected to share that he was the winner of the first New York City half-marathon wheelchair race that occurred about a month ago. He finished in first place at the LA Marathon only a few days before that, and he has also won the Chicago Marathon three times.

“I want to find that satisfaction. The goal of being an athlete is the constant striving to get better. Even after you get a gold medal, you know you have to get better for the next race,” George said.

George is looking forward to this year’s Boston Marathon. He said he’s excited to see the city come together.

“It’s nice to see people come together for peaceful shows of support.”

He’s aiming for a top ten finish, and would especially love to place in the top 5.

When he’s not racing, he lives in Champaign, Illinois in a house with two roommates, also wheelchair racers. He describes Illinois and the leadership from Adam Bleakney, his coach, as “easily the best place to train in the country.” George also works for Intelliwheels, a startup company in Champaign that develops mobility equipment.

I asked him what he would tell the entire world if he had a chance.

“I have a lot of things I want to tell the world,” George laughed.

“People have this perception of what it means to be disabled. You’re either disabled or you’re not. I would shout out to the world, to anyone who listen, to question perception.” 

Today, George finished in 6th place in the men’s wheelchair division.

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