I'll Push You: Lifelong friends prepare for grueling journey

I'll Push You: Lifelong friends prepare for grueling journey

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by Karen Zatkulak

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KTVB.COM

Posted on November 3, 2013 at 8:27 PM

Updated Monday, Nov 4 at 10:25 AM

BOISE -- A local man with an unusual disease is preparing to make an amazing journey. He will be traveling 500 miles, over several mountain ranges, through two countries, and he'll be doing it all in a wheelchair.

His best friend will be pushing him every step of the way.

THE DIAGNOSIS

Justin Skeesuck grew up in Ontario, Oregon.  His best friend, literally since birth, has been Patrick Gray.

"Patrick and I have known each other literally since we were born, we were born about 24 hours apart," said Skeesuck.

The friends grew up playing sports and skateboarding together.

Then, in high school, Skeesuck was involved in a car accident, and afterwards he suddenly noticed a change.

"I was just playing sports, very very active and noticed my foot not working well," said Skeesuck.

The sensation soon traveled up his left leg, and then to his right. He was eventually diagnosed with a rare disease called multifocal acquired motor axonopathy.

"My auto immune system attacks my nervous system, and my nervous system just decides to stop working for some unknown reason," said Skeesuck.

But through the difficult diagnosis and discouraging days, one thing that always worked was Justin's friendship with Patrick.

"Got a true friend that is there, that's waiting in wings, ready to pick me up when I fall that's ready to help me if I need to go to the bathroom, help me get my clothes on," said Skeesuck.

Over the years, Skeesuck's condition has spread, and his limitations have grown as well. He has lost most control of his hands, which was his livelihood as a graphic designer.

"The giant kind of kick in the chest was when he lost his hands, that was hard," said Gray.

It was emotional for Patrick to watch his friend lose his independence, but it only strengthened their bond.

"There's been never a pause where we questioned the strength or validity of our friendship, it's pretty unique," said Gray.

The friends are now both married with children, and the families have traveled the world together.
Gray says through it all, Skeesuck has been the one pushing him through life.

"He's unstoppable... and inspiring," said Gray.

THE DREAM

But Justin's latest idea could be the most inspirational, and it could be something that's never been done before.

It all started when he was watching this documentary on a popular pilgrimage called the Camino de Santiago, a 500 mile trek from France through Spain.

"I saw that and said that would be really crazy, something to do, really challenging in a wheelchair," said Skeesuck.

Justin needed someone to be his feet and his hands and turned to Patrick, whose answer was easy.

"I'll push you, your friend that you would die for, what other response would you have," said Gray.

For six weeks Gray will push Skeesuck. They know there will be some hard days and some stumbles, but the pair says they won't stop.

They plan to travel a dozen miles a day, through the Pyrenees Mountains, across rivers, and down rocky dirt trails.

"I look at it as this is a journey we are going to go on and it's going to be hard, it is going to be difficult but I don't dwell on that," said Skeesuck.

Instead, they dwell on their mission -- to show others that no matter where you sit in life, you can still push the boundaries, and push each other.

"My own personal goal is to literally accomplish what we set out to do and to not give up no matter how hard it is," said Skeesuck.

THE PREPARATION

Undertaking such a daunting task like El Camino de Santiago will not be easy, both physically and mentally.  To help prepare for that aspect of the journey, the two are both taking measures to make it possible.

Skeesuck has been working on dieting and eating healthy.  Though his doctors don't want him to lose too much weight, he says he would like to help ease the burden that Gray will be pushing for over a month.

The physical work is underway for Gray, who will be walking and pushing every step of the way. He has always been a fitness enthusiast, and has now ramped up his training

"Right now I'm doing a lot of strength training with some endurance training with some metabolic stuff in the middle," Gray said.

Gray exercises 5-6 days a week, sometimes twice a day.  

His end goal is simple:

"That final destination, that's the target in my head," said Gray.  "So when, I'm in the gym, or on the road riding my bike, it's like this is to get myself from point A to point B with him right in front of me."

HOW YOU CAN HELP

The pair hopes to complete the Camino next summer, and will travel with a crew, documenting their journey.

If you would like to help, they do need financial support to make it all happen.

Just visit their website here for more information.

To help in their journey, a local company, Bottlecap Inc., has agreed to donate the money to have a special wheelchair built for the trip.

Justin Skeesuck now works as an advocate for travelers with disabilities. He does consulting and speaks at events as The Disabled Traveler.

For more information on his mission, click here.

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