Tickets are now available (CLICK HERE) for the remarkable documentary I’ll Push You about Justin Skeesuck and Patrick Gray, two lifelong friends who embarked on a five-and-a-half-week, 500-mile-long journey to hike Spain’s famed El Camino de Santiago.
Here’s the hitch: Justin is in a wheelchair.
So, how did this epic journey begin?
It would seem Justin and Patrick were destined to be friends — their parents were friends in college and Justin’s great uncle was Patrick’s grandfather’s best man in his wedding.
So, naturally, when Justin and Patrick were born 36 hours apart at the same hospital in 1975, the family tradition carried on.
“We’ve been connected since day one,” Patrick said.
Justin and Patrick at graduation from high school.The two boys did everything together: family activities, church activities, school, and sports.
When Justin was almost 16, he was in a serious car accident. The accident triggered a dormant progressive autoimmune disease called Multifocal Acquired Motor Axonopathy (MAMA). The disease, similar to ALS, caused Justin’s autoimmune system to attack his nervous system, which sporadically shuts down, causing his muscles to atrophy. The disease itself doesn’t cause pain, and he still has full sensory awareness — and a full sense of humor — in spite of it.
“Justin has always been a glass-half-full kind of guy or what I think of as annoyingly positive,” Patrick says.
For a while, Justin could still do most things using a special brace. Over a period of years, he lost function of his feet and legs. His torso and arms remained unaffected.
Justin went to college and got married. He and Patrick remained close and continued to vacation together. Justin continued to do as much as his body allowed. Because his atrophy had been contained to his lower body, he could maintain a career as a talented graphic designer. But in 2010, he noticed a weakness in his right shoulder. It only took 45 days to lose over 70 percent of the use of his right arm. Eventually, Justin lost the use of all of his extremities.
The Wild Idea
The two friends had been looking for the perfect “guy trip” for quite some time. Justin described a lazy day in March 2012. He’d been channel surfing the TV when he landed on a travel channel story about the Camino de Santiago, a 500-mile pilgrimage beginning about five miles across the French border, and ending at the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela. He knew immediately this was “the one.”
Justin then called to his wife of 17 years, Kirstin, to see what he was watching.
Without hesitation, she said, “Why not? If it’s something you want to do, then do it!”
Justin wondered what Patrick would think. Sure, they’d had their share of adventures over the years, but this one would top them all.
A few weeks later, while Patrick and his wife of 20 years, Donna, and their children were visiting, Justin showed him the recording of the Camino de Santiago.
After the recording ended, Justin asked Patrick, “So, do you want to go across 500 miles of northern Spain with me?”
Patrick’s response: “I’ll push you.”