Paralympian Josh George Making His Mark in Wheelchair Racing

By EmmaKate Austin
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At just four years old, Josh George survived a 12-story fall from a window. He lost the use of his lower body, but hasn’t let that hold him back from succeeding as an athlete.

Four-time Paralympian Josh George has a long list of racing accomplishments, but his impact on the sport reaches far beyond the finish line.

In the midst of setting world records and winning medals in wheelchair racing, he got involved with IntelliWheels, a wheelchair tech startup located in Champaign, Illinois that was founded by some of his friends.

George was initially brought on just to give some feedback, but has gradually taken on a larger role as project manager.

“We’ve really found a good niche for developing lifestyle products for people with disabilities,” he said. “For too long anything developed for person with a disability was sort of classified as a medical product, a medical tool. And that’s not the type of stuff that people want.”

For the last two years the U.S. wheelchair racing team has partnered with engineers at BMW to develop a new racing chair. When the sport of wheelchair racing was in its earliest stages, people were building chairs themselves, George said.

“We got to really re-think what a racing chair can do from the top down,” he said. “It’s really a huge step forwards in the evolution of the equipment that we’re using.”

George is the star of a new BMW ad that aired during the opening ceremony of the Rio Olympics. The ad, narrated by actor Chris Pine, shows George racing down a rural road in Illinois as the sun sets in the background.

“It was incredible because it never acknowledged the disability,” he said. “It never acknowledged difference between me and another athlete. It invited everyone to rethink what an athlete is.”

George hopes that message will resonate with the general public, and he appreciates the fact that BMW has made such a powerful point.

In addition to his work on the technology side, he wants to inspire and encourage others to live up to their full potential.

“I feel like we all have a skill set or a talent or something we’re innately good at or trained to be good at. I’m interested in being able to maximize whatever that talent is,” he said.

As George prepares to maximize his potential at the Paralympic Games in Rio, he is getting out into the community to spread his message.

His biggest personal goal, however, is speed.

“I want to be able to say I went as fast as it was possible for me to go,” he said. “And that I didn’t leave anything on the table.”

Photo at top: George works to push himself, his fellow athletes and his sport forward. (Photo courtesy Josh George)