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Tokyo Paralympics: Joshua George survived 120 feet fall and overcame paralysis to win medals

A man with a sense of humor, Joshua George said in a 2016 interview about the horrifying fall from a 12-story window, 'I stuck the landing'
UPDATED AUG 17, 2021
Joshua George of the United States competes in the Men's 800 Meter Run T53 Wheelchair final during the 2021 U.S. Paralympic Trials at Breck High School on June 18, 2021 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by David Berding/Getty Images)
Joshua George of the United States competes in the Men's 800 Meter Run T53 Wheelchair final during the 2021 U.S. Paralympic Trials at Breck High School on June 18, 2021 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by David Berding/Getty Images)

Joshua George, 37, is the embodiment of an inspirational story. Representing Team USA in the Tokyo Paralympic Games might be a rare experience for many. But for George, it’s almost home now. After all, this is going to be his fifth Paralympic Games. And he’s shown great grit in all the ones before. 

While the Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro in 2016 were a bit of a disappointment for the track and field athlete, in London in 2012, he won the bronze medal in 800 meters. In Beijing, China, in 2008, George made the US proud by winning the gold medal in 100 meters and the silver medal in 800 meters. In Athens in 2004, he won two bronze medals — for 100 meters and 400 meters.


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George is expected to do great things again in the Tokyo Paralympic Games. The expectations are not unfair, given his past record. But that’s not the only reason why fans of the Games know he has it in him. His own life story is one filled with great adversities and how he overcame them.

The six-times world champion suffers from spinal cord injuries. George fell out of a 12-story window when he was just four years old. While he punctured his lungs and was paralyzed from his mid-chest down, he survived the 120-feet fall. A man with a sense of humor, George said in a 2016 interview about this horrifying accident, "I stuck the landing.”

"I landed straight up and down on my feet in these short, little bushes next to the building, That's what really saved me," George said. "The combination of landing on my feet and in those bushes and the fact that when you're four, your bones still aren't fully formed so they still have a little give to them. They absorbed enough for me to survive."


That he survived at all was deemed a miracle by his doctors. On his personal website, it says, “That he still had use of his arms and upper body, with no damage to his brain or other vital organs, was a gift on top of that — one that Josh’s parents did not take for granted. Their determination that he would have as full and active and normal a life as possible ensured that Josh did not take it for granted, either.”

George then learned to navigate the world by wheelchair. He grew up playing basketball and tennis, swimming, racing track, and more. His parents made sure that he used sports to continue moving forward. "I give my parents all the credit in the world," he said. "They could not have handled the situation any better. They were amazing. They took it all in stride. They never looked at me as disabled. I was just as able as anybody else in their eyes, and that's how they treated me. I just had to use the wheelchair instead of walking."

"Sports created seeds of creative problem solving," he said in the 2016 interview, "to be able to find opportunities to maximize my potential. And it carried over in life. Once you learn how to recognize opportunities and once you learn how to utilize different tools to accomplish your goals, it gives you confidence in your ability to approach problems in your future and know you'll be able to figure out a solution."


George played wheelchair basketball at the University of Illinois. But then he moved on to track. And if his more-than-significant number of medals is an indication, he made the right call.

"We have an interesting relationship with disability," George said of Americans. "It's very much a medical model where we think it's people who are broken or injured or old. And that's far from the case. We all have a different disability, but we're not really overcoming that disability. The overcoming part has come and gone. The struggle has come and gone. We are all out there now to maximize our abilities as an athlete and compete for a gold medal in the same sense the Olympians are."