Josh George of McLean Wins Two Medals at Beijing Paralympics

(By James M. Thresher For The Washington Post)
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By George Solomon
Sunday, November 2, 2008

Josh George is back home in McLean from the Paralympics in Beijing -- the Olympic Games for the disabled. The gold medal he won in the 100-meter wheelchair sprint about seven weeks ago hangs in his parents' house, as does the silver for second place in the 800 and the satisfaction of also competing in the 400, the 1,500 and the marathon.

So you think you had a busy month?

The two checks from the U.S. Olympic Committee for winning the two medals -- $5,000 for gold and $3,000 for silver -- have been deposited in the bank. And while the reality of making a living so he can keep training ("I want to do this forever," said George) has set in, the memories of competing for two weeks before 80,000 fans a day at the Bird's Nest in Beijing remain fresh and exhilarating.

"An awesome experience," exclaimed George, during an interview between training sessions on Washington and Old Dominion Trail and Langley High School's track in preparation for today's New York Marathon.

"I was a little nervous going to China for the Games. . . . But the fans got into it, the organizers filled the stadiums every day and for the 4,000 athletes, it was a memorable two weeks," he said.

For George, 24, much of his life and journey to becoming a world-class wheelchair athlete has been "memorable" -- as well as difficult and at times stressful. But he's never felt bitterness or regret, he said.

At age 4, when he was supposed to be taking a nap in the bedroom of his family's 12th-floor apartment in Falls Church, he instead went crawling on a windowsill in search of a toy. "Slipped against a pop-out screen," he related. He fell out of the window about 120 feet to the ground, but somehow he survived.

He was in the hospital for a month, George said, his spinal cord badly bruised, the use of his legs gone forever.

"From the moment he woke up, he was so upbeat he made us all positive," said Marjorie George, his mother.

After his release from the hospital, George spent a month in rehabilitation before going home. When he was 7, his parents began taking him to Baltimore to participate in a program for disabled children. "The Bennett Blazers," he remembered. "We did everything: swimming, basketball, table tennis, archery, tennis. You name it, we did it."

"He was into sports before his accident," Marjorie George said. "He was always so determined."

"You could never question his toughness," said Adam Bleckney, George's wheelchair track coach at the University of Illinois.

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