Justin Sutherland Is 'Excited to Get Back on the Water' 8 Months After Boating Accident Scarred His Face

Top Chef alum Justin Sutherland fell off his boat near the motor in July and is now giving an update on his recovery to PEOPLE

Justin Sutherland Says He’s ‘Excited to Get Back on the Boat’ 8 Months After His Accident on the Water
Photo: Darton Weaver & Hailey Courtney 

Justin Sutherland is not letting his past hold him back.

In July, the former Top Chef contestant was seriously injured in a boating accident after he fell into the water near the propeller. The traumatic event led to several injuries, including bone fractures, a broken jaw and shattered teeth. Eight months later, Sutherland tells PEOPLE he's healing — both mentally and physically — and even hopes to get back on the water when the one-year mark approaches.

"I'm definitely excited to get back on the boat. So I'll definitely be back on the water on July 3rd on that anniversary day and hopefully much sooner as soon as this winter stops," he says. "I'm excited to get back on the water. I'm excited to just continue living and loving life."

Sutherland, 38, had three surgeries shortly following the accident, including one that had to happen the night of the accident. Since then, he's had additional arm surgeries, "a full dental reconstructive surgery" and surgery to repair his jaw, he tells PEOPLE.

He also revealed that his "nose was completely destroyed," saying that doctors "rebuilt it fully."

While most major surgeries are behind him, the remaining procedures are mostly for "comfort or cosmetic" purposes.

Justin Sutherland Says He’s ‘Excited to Get Back on the Boat’ 8 Months After His Accident on the Water
Justin Sutherland Instagram

As Sutherland moves on, he is not looking to forget all he's been through. In the months since the life-altering event, Sutherland decided to get a tattoo of the propeller from the boat.

"I'm not afraid to remember it. People are always asking, 'Is it okay to talk about this? Can we ask questions?' For me, talking through it…has been very therapeutic for me," he says. "It's something that I want to put behind me as far as the incident, but the silver linings and some of the positive outcomes and lessons that I've learned and things I've learned about myself and things that I've learned about other people is something that I don't want to forget."

Sutherland adds that this is "one of those whatever doesn't kill you make you stronger moments" and having the tattoo on the side of his neck is a reminder of his resilience.

justin sutherland after his boating accident
courtesy justin sutherland

March marked another milestone in the restaurateur's recovery: He finally went back to the gym.

"I was probably at the peak of my working out when this accident happened and probably in one of the better shapes I'd been in my life and just to have that going the complete opposite direction, it felt good to be able to start getting back at it," he says. "There's some frustrations with realizing some of the limitations I have and some of the strength that I've lost, but also knowing that I can get it all back — it felt good to be able to do that again."

When asked if he's easing into a new workout regimen, Sutherland says he doesn't "do anything small."

"I'm fully back at it four or five days a week," he says. "I go all the way on things."

And he's bouncing back in other aspects of his life, too. In the months following his July accident, Sutherland released a cookbook, Northern Soul, appeared on shows like Food Network's Guy's Ranch Kitchen and Supermarket Stakeout and even got a new puppy — a gray French bulldog adorably named Betty White.

Justin Sutherland Says He’s ‘Excited to Get Back on the Boat’ 8 Months After His Accident on the Water
Darton Weaver & Hailey Courtney

"Even as strong as I thought I was, I don't think you ever realize what you're capable of until you're put in these situations," he says. "Some people can choose to succumb to it and give up and that's not what I'm going to do."

The Iron Chef America winner also expressed his gratitude towards the friends, family and "complete strangers" who supported him during his recovery. Not only did his GoFundMe page raise nearly $250,000, but Guy Fieri also held a fundraising event for Sutherland's recovery and medical bills, selling tickets for $5,000 each.

"It's meant the world," he says. "Complete strangers from all around the country and world and people who I've never met still check in on me every single week and, it's been pretty powerful, unexpected. I'm still speechless when I really think about how much people came together to help me."

While it's "been a roller coaster both physically and mentally," says Sutherland, "the more I learned about the accident and the extent of the injuries and just all around it, the more blessed and grateful I feel."

Justin Sutherland Says He’s ‘Excited to Get Back on the Boat’ 8 Months After His Accident on the Water
Darton Weaver & Hailey Courtney

The chef says going through this "near-death experience" not only helped him learn about himself, but it also showed him the good in other people. The time following the boating incident felt "almost like being present at your own funeral," he says.

"Especially when you're out there as a public figure…and there's all these people that appear to care about you and sometimes it might cross your mind like 'I wonder how many of these people really show up at my funeral?'" he says. "Being present for that moment and realizing that a lot of people really do care about you and would do things for you you didn't expect. It gave me a whole new appreciation for that and just a reason to want to be the best me I can be."

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