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Published on August 13th, 2016 | by Josh Pate

Paralympian Josh George heads to Rio with focus on the journey

By Josh Pate

Josh George has finally realized it’s more about the journey than the destination.

The three-time Paralympic athlete has five medals in three different track events including a gold in the 100m in Athens. He is a six-time world champion in four different racing events. He even grabbed a gold medal in wheelchair basketball with Team USA at the 2007 ParaPan American Games in Rio.

Until recently, his focus had always been on securing the hardware at the end of the race, so much that he raced in every track event he could at nearly ever distance: 100m, 200m, 400m, 800m, 1500m, 5k, and marathon.

“I was putting all this pressure on myself, pressure to win, not to go fast or to improve, but to win,” George said. “That’s the wrong type of focus. When I stepped back and asked myself why I race, I realized the whole idea of racing was this quest to maximize my potential.”

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George said the 2008 Beijing Paralympic Games were a turning point for his focus. He entered the Games as the reigning world champion in almost every event he entered, but the amount of pressure he placed on himself left him disappointed in the results and searching for answers.

“I did alright with a gold (100m) and a silver (800m), but even with that I was disappointed that I didn’t do better,” George admitted. “It was ridiculous. I feel silly because even now when I reflect back on it, it eats at me because I feel like I should have done better.”

London 2012 was different.

“I put racing in its proper place in my life,” George said. “Racing is an incredibly important part of my life, but for a period of time I just let it consume my life and be the only thing that defined my self-worth.”

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He came away from London with less hardware in a bronze medal in the 800m, but he felt better about his successes.

George now heads to Rio with Team USA with an even clearer head. He said he’s having fun again with racing, much like when he first went to Athens in 2004 with an anything-goes attitude.

In response, he has started a “Maximize Your Potential” social media campaign to try and get others involved in realizing it’s not always about winning and losing but pushing your body to its limits. He said the Beijing and London experiences allowed him to realize when he pushes his body to that edge, the victories happen on their own both on the track and off.

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“It wasn’t about winning,” George said about his old days of pressure-packed preparation that often led to disappointment. “Winning is awesome and feels great, and the hope is if I maximize my potential then I will win a few races here and there. But that can’t be the end all, be all in this.”

George stopped when reflecting upon his transformation, and then recalled a Buddhist quote that summarized his renewed efforts.: “It’s better to travel well than to have arrived.”

With George’s successes, he’s arrived and now he’s enjoying the journey.

“Whether you’re able-bodied, disabled or whatever, we’re all limited by our bodies,” George said about his renewed focus. “But I don’t think limitation is a bad thing. I’m a believer that limitation breeds creativity and problem solving.”

Josh George’s Events:

George will be racing the 400m, 800m, 1500m, 5k, and marathon, but his best medal chances are in his classification races, the 400m and 800m.

George competes as a T-53 athlete, classified as an athlete with limited or no trunk function. He races against other T-53 athletes in the 400m and 800m. However, when he races at any distance longer than 800m, he competes as an open athlete against T-54 athletes who have full trunk function.

Sports Writer Josh Pate is an assistant professor in sport and recreation management at James Madison University. His research expertise is in disability sport with an emphasis the experiences of people, whether that be through communication, access, or participation.  He has written for Ability Magazine since 2004, covering topics such as the Paralympic Movement, sport for Wounded Warriors, adaptive sport, and accessible travel.

 

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