Pro Wheelchair Athlete Josh George on Giving Back to His Sport
“Josh, have you been training this week? Let me see your gloves.”
The scene was always the same on those brisk spring mornings in Virginia.
Before starting a workout on the track, Cisco Jeter, a Paralympic wheelchair racer who represented the U.S. at the Barcelona Games in 1992, would check my gloves to make sure I was using the correct part of my hands to push. I began wheelchair racing using homemade gloves consisting of batting gloves wrapped in thick, white athletic tape.
I was 11 years old and just beginning to learn the proper way to push a racing chair. My natural inclination was to grab the push rim, the same as I did in my normal wheelchair. However, in a racing wheelchair, you are supposed to punch the push rim, making contact on the outside of your thumb and the knuckles of your index and middle fingers.
Because of the white tape on my gloves, Cisco could tell where I made contact with the rim by the black marks on the gloves.
I lived for the mornings when he would study the markings and tell me it looked like I was getting it right.
I was beyond excited the day he told me I had gotten good enough to graduate to using a professionally manufactured pair of black leather gloves with thick rubber over the thumb and knuckles.
Cisco was not my coach; my coaches were a married couple named Gwenna and Gerry, who are still running a phenomenal wheelchair sports program for kids in Baltimore, Maryland—but Gwenna and Gerry were able-bodied.
Cisco looked like me.
He was a dude in a wheelchair who lived a normal life like all the other adults I had ever seen.
A guy who had raced at the highest level in the sport I loved, who recognized talent and passion in me, and who decided to share some of his knowledge with me.
None of my sports heroes looked like me when I was growing up. My heroes may have been the people I saw on TV, but the people I strove to emulate were the ones who compete sitting down. I didn’t understand what the Paralympics were when I was a kid, and never conceptualized the idea of a “professional wheelchair athlete,” however, a lot of my self-confidence sprouted from the accomplishments and examples set by the older wheelchair athletes I met.
Twenty years later, the idea of a “professional wheelchair athlete” is now a reality, and I am fortunate to be one of the few who can claim that job title.
I am also now one of those “older wheelchair athletes” with a responsibility to set an example of what is possible for kids who look like me.
I recently donated two racing chairs to NYRR’s free Youth Wheelchair Training Program, which meets every Saturday. Leading up to the 2018 United Airlines NYC Half, not only will I get to meet some of the young athletes in this program, but on race day, they will get to watch adults who look like them flying down the streets on TV.
They will get to hop in the chairs I donated and think to themselves, if that guy can make this thing fly like that, so can I.
Catch Josh George live during the 2018 United Airlines NYC Half broadcast on ABC7—he'll be outfitted with a camera to give viewers a unique view of the race. Coverage starts at 7:00 a.m. ET on Sunday, March 18.