Josh George was only 4 years old when he tumbled out of a 12th-floor window, so he doesn’t remember much about his long recovery.He remembers calling his doctor, named Futterman, “Dr. Funny Face.” He remembers that his hospital room was filled with stuffed animals. He remembers having his feeding tube changed.
And he remembers racing his wheelchair around the halls of the rehab facility.
“The nurses didn’t appreciate it much,” recalls George, now 30.
They would likely appreciate it more these days: George is now one of the top wheelchair racers in the world. A four-time winner of the Bank of America Chicago Marathon (2003, 2004, 2006, 2014), he is also the champion of the 2014 NYC Half and the 2015 Virgin Money London Marathon, as well as a four-time Paralympic medalist, World Champion, and world record-holder on the track.
Earlier this month, he earned a spot on his fourth Paralympic team by finishing as the top American in Chicago.
“My heart bursts out of my body, I’m just so proud,” says his mother, Marjorie. “I can’t even describe it.”
George may not be able to recall the days after his fall—which, miraculously, was softened just enough by a row of low bushes to save his life—but his mother certainly does: weeks in intensive care, a full-body cast, doctors’ warnings of everything that could go wrong, including death. It was a scary time.
But not, apparently, for her son.
“I don’t remember him ever being upset about it,” she says. “At 4 years old, he just accepted it. The psychologists would say, ‘He’s brightening my day every day; I don’t know what I’m doing for him.’”
Young Josh had already showed signs of athletic talent before the accident, and his mother made sure that she found sports programs for him as soon as his rehab was complete. It started with preschool soccer, where he would throw the ball in from the sidelines or play goalie, and it progressed to just about every sport there is—including basketball, in which he played on several medal-winning national teams before focusing on wheelchair racing, in which his success has surprised some doubters.
At about 98 pounds, George is the lightest male racer on the pro circuit, which is a disadvantage going downhill. Harder to overcome, however, is his level of disability; with no trunk function, his International Paralympic Committee classification is T53, whereas most of his Abbott World Marathon Majors rivals are T54, with partial or normal trunk function. In the Paralympics, races are divided by classification; in major marathons, they are not.
“That’s what I spend my entire career trying to prove to myself I could do,” he says of winning Chicago last fall and London this spring against all the top racers in the world.
In the midst of the best year of his career (“I’m having more fun racing than I’ve ever had in my entire life”), George returns to the TCS New York City Marathon for the ninth time. Despite his monumental success elsewhere, his best finish in the marathon here came in 2007, when he was fifth.
He’s not forgetting that for a moment.
“New York is a race where I always feel like I should do well,” he says. “My last few years at New York were cold, windy races, and I didn’t hold up well. Maybe I’m being too hard on myself, but I feel as if I should have done better. Every year I come back more determined to have a good race. I know there’s going to be a year when I’m on point, and you know what? Maybe it’s this year.”