A lot can happen in a year.
Last August, George Watson faced the biggest challenge of his life: surviving. The 55-year-old Colorado man sustained a spinal cord injury during a deep decompression dive in a remote lake in the Andes Mountains.
Watson was working in the Andes as the dive team leader for the 2014 Laguna Sibinacocha expedition. The purpose of the excursion was to locate and partially survey indigenous artifacts and conduct the first ever-deep decompression dive attempted at an altitude of 16,000 feet.
During the dive everything that could go wrong—went wrong. George and fellow diver experienced equipment malfunctions. With low oxygen in his dive tanks George was forced to ascend 110 feet to the surface in only eighty seconds.
February 22, 2015
16:13 seconds. Step after step.
George Watson set a goal to climb to top of the Republic Plaza Building, as part of Denver’s Fight for Air Climb, an annual fundraiser for the American Lung Association.
“I made it. I made my goal which was getting to the top!”
George had made the trip up the 56-floor stair climb with 1,098 steps in 2009 and 2014. But this time was the first time since he made the climb since he was paralyzed.
“I knew Craig was where I wanted to go after my injury”
The accident left George paralyzed (T9 incomplete) and took his dive partner’s life. With no roads anywhere in sight George was literally fighting for his life. He was carried by 5 local Quechua people down a 17,000-foot pass of treacherous terrain. After several hours of enduring a gruesome hike, he was then driven to the nearest hospital a few hours away in Cuzco, Peru.
There he received hyperbaric oxygen treatment for a couple of days until he was transferred to Lima, Peru for an additional 10 days of hyperbaric oxygen treatments.
Eventually, George was flown back to the United States and admitted to Craig Hospital. “I knew Craig was where I wanted to go after my injury. Mostly because of the reputation, but also the facilities are just incredible and the whole support network that would be available there.” While at Craig for six weeks, George was able to work on his rehabilitation and reached the ability to walk with crutches by the time of his discharge date.
“It gives me a sense of moving forward.”
May 17, 2015
Since being discharged George has been working relentlessly to get back what he once had. “ I realize that each step of the way has been a journey and I realize that this is going to be an ongoing struggle. I have no idea where I’m going to end up, but everyday the highlight is getting to do my rehab. It gives me a sense of moving forward.”
George’s most recently went to New York City to compete in the T2T Tower Climb at Freedom Tower, an ascent of 1970 steps to reach the 90th floor of the building. With no signs of slowing down, George now has his eyes set on next year’s LA Marathon, which will be held in February of 2016.
“We all have the same goal; a brotherhood of desire.”
To George, these competitions contain a deeper significance than simply just training or competing.
“My focus has been my spinal cord injury and others spinal cord injuries and my help motivating others into overcoming the difficult challenges that are put in front of them.”
During George’s time at Craig he said he developed a special bond with the other patients. He says, “We all have the same goal; a brotherhood of desire. These are the people that I want to reach the most.”