George Casares describes himself as an outdoorsman: hiking, biking, skiing, fishing. If it’s outside, count him in but his true passion is sailing. After growing up on Long Island, he spent summers living on his 42 foot sailboat and traveling with his girlfriend, Alex. The perfect life came to a halt on August 13, 2016 when he sustained a C6/C7 spinal cord injury as the result of a diving accident while on vacation in Maryland.
Airlifted to the University of Maryland Medical Center ICU, he underwent 2 operations before spending 3 1/2 months at the Shepherd Center in Atlanta. Asked what he wanted to accomplish with his rehabilitation therapy at Shepherd, his immediate answer was to get back on a boat and sail it himself.
A Sweet Proposal
His therapists at Shepherd Center not only made that sailing wish come true but helped him orchestrate a romantic surprise engagement proposal for Alex at the same time; complete with special adaptations to the ring box so that George could open it himself when he popped the question. (See the whole sweet story here.)
Sailing a New Way
Today, Alex and George are back sailing on Long Island Sound. They have adapted a new smaller boat to meet his needs. With the entire deck covered in padded mats, George can safely navigate the boat without risking pressure sores. He gets on and off the boat easily with a swing rigged up to a pulley system. They have even begun taking other people with spinal cord injuries out on the water with them. “I may be in a chair but I am back to being myself.”
“I may be in a chair, but I am back to being myself.”
George credits Alex and the team at Shepherd Center for motivating him to be as independent as possible. She was by his side the entire time he was in rehab, cheering him on through the cycle of trying and failing and trying again. Now, as they work on their new normal, he says that the key is communication. He laughs when he talks about how Alex doesn’t let him get away with anything. She recently insisted that he start taking his turn at cooking. “I avoid the toaster oven since I usually burn myself but I’ve got the stove top pretty well handled now.”
Accessibility is a Learning Curve
Staying connected with friends has been a little more difficult. Paralysis was a new experience for all of them. They didn’t understand what accessibility meant to a wheelchair user until they invited George to join them for a recent golf outing. The rented house they planned to stay at had multiple staircases leading up to the living areas. Obviously, it was impossible for George to make the trip. Now many of his friends look for first floor apartments when their leases renew so that George and Alex can visit more easily.
Going back to work is the next big challenge that George has set for himself. Before the accident, he was a project manager and site supervisor for one of NYC’s leading building contractors. He is looking forward to managing a medical facility renovation for them within the next few weeks. He admits to being a little nervous about how he will navigate job sites in his wheelchair but is determined to make it work.
“You have to be willing to put yourself in situations that you may think a guy in a wheelchair couldn’t do and then just do it!”
With his positive attitude and the support of loving family and friends, we have a feeling that George is on his way to accomplishing all of his dreams.