Army family member defies odds, sinks competition
January 16, 2009
WAIPIO, Hawaii - Standing on the starting block during the 2008-09 Hawaiian Swimming Short Course Age Group Championships, at the Veterans' Memorial Aquatic Center/Central Oahu Regional Park, here, Dec. 20, 17-year-old Trey George's 6-foot, 4-inch, 180-pound stature wasn't the only thing that set him apart from the others.
Reaching across his chest, and approximately 7-inches in length, is a scar that tells a story of great triumph, although George barely notices it.
"I personally don't see it as a barrier for anything," said George. "It was just another part of life."
Exactly two years ago to the day - almost to the hour - George was being wheeled into surgery for a congenital heart condition. The open-heart surgery performed was just a momentary roadblock for this talented swimmer.
"There was the reality of whether or not he would come out, but he succeeded," said his mother, Kysa George. "Trey went into surgery one person and came out another."
George's family was stationed in Hawaii, where he was an avid swimmer, in 2002. Using the ocean as his personal training ground, George swam almost daily and competed for the Schofield Sharks Club. After moving to the mainland, he took a four-year hiatus from swimming. He then joined a swim team in Texas in November 2006 and had trouble breathing.
One week before his father, Col. James George, commander, 196th Infantry Brigade, deployed to Iraq, the George family found out about the teenager's condition.
"I had no idea what was happening to my son," said James. "It was hard to be away."
James was granted emergency leave to see his son through the surgery.
As doctors performed open-heart surgery, they found 15 holes in George's heart.
"Trey is an extremely bright and self-motivated kid," said James. "He went through the surgery and recovery with great conviction, and his faith in God helped him along the way."
In 2008 his family moved back to Hawaii and George continued his teenage life, banging out jazz tunes on the drums, studying and hanging out with friends.
He joined the Aloha Aquatics swim team in August only at his mother's urging and to encourage his younger sister to continue swimming.
George struggled at first with fears of being in the water and conditions of his weakened heart. He vowed to quit after three days.
"Sometimes the stuff we do in life seems completely illogical but helps us get past a certain part in our lives," said George. "There was a part of me that I needed to get past ... the part of my mind would never let me triumph in that area."
The turning point was a simple meditation exercise where for the first time in years, George was able to relax in the water.
"I was worried about letting people down and wondering if I would have the same problems," said George.
Through the mediation exercise, George was able to confront his fears and realize he was not inadequate.
In only six weeks on the team, George qualified for the state competition in the 50- and 100-yard freestyle and 100-yard breaststroke.
"I never put limitations on my students, but with such little training, I had no idea he would qualify," said Randy Folker, head coach of the Aloha Aquatics. "A lot of kids train for years to get that far."
George continued to succeed, placing in the top 20 in two of the three competitions at the swim meet. He has since regained his love for swimming.
"It is no longer about why my mom asked me to swim or to motivate my sister; it is personal," said George. "It's about me."
George's presence and demeanor stands out to most, and he continues to inspire others through his determination and faith.
"When I swim now, I just try to do my best and I love to perform to my highest ability," said George. "I measure my success by how much heart I put into. If I give it my best then I won."