MERIDIAN -- Two Meridian men are preparing for the journey of a lifetime across the rugged mountains of Spain to the holy shrine of apostle St. James the Great.
The friends -- one in a wheelchair, and the other pushing him -- will attempt to complete the 500 mile pilgrimmage to the holy shrine in about six weeks.
It will take millions of steps and immeasurable endurance for Patrick Gray to push his friend Justin Skeesuck an average of 12-miles-per-day throughout the journey.
Skeesuck suffers from a rare autoimmune disease that has caused his nervous system to stop working. Doctors eventually diagnosed hime with multifocal acquired motor axonopathy. The condition left him wheelchair bound.
My auto immune system attacks my nervous system, and my nervous system just decides to stop working for some unknown reason, Skeesuck said, describing the disease.
Despite his lack of mobility, Skeesuck decided to embark upon one of the toughest walking journeys in the world -- The Camino de Santiago -- or Way of St. James. The ancient pilgrimmage route in northwestern spain leads to the shrine of apostle St. James the Great.
Natureally, Skeesuck asked his best friend Patrick Gray to push him every step of the way. Both men grew up in Ontario, Oregon, and Skeesuck says Gray has been his best friend since birth.
As each bump in the road comes along we are going to try to get through it and get over it, and do the best that we can, said Skeesuck.
The pair will leave from the French/Spanish border and ascend the Pyrenees Mountains to begin the trip. Then, for six weeks, they will travel west, staying in hostels overnight. They will be traveling to Santiago de Compostela, the home of the shrine.
The mission has a deeper meaning for Skeesuck, who works as an advocate, helping people with disabilities to travel easier.
It's going to be a life changing event for both of us, and if we can help share our message of that with others, than it's a win-win, said Skeesuck.
He hopes what he and Gray accomplish on this trip will push others to push their own limits.
I'm having someone push me 500 miles across Spain, not knowing what is going to end up in the end, said Skeesuck. I think it's a powerful message.
Skeesuck hopes it will be more than an accomplishment for the pair, but for Boise as well.
To be a light for Boise not only nationwide but worldwide, it's pretty great and I'm so blessed to have that as an opportunity to do, said Skeesuck.
Skeesuck says as far as he knows, it would be the first time someone in a wheelchair completes this exact pilgrimage.
If I end being the first person in history to do it in a wheelchair on that route, then cool, said Skeesuck.
The pair will begin their pilgrimage on May 29. They have been training in the Boise foothills with a new wheelchair made specifically for Skeesuck. It weighs 25 pounds, and includes specialty shocks and straps all designed for the dirt roads they'll face.
For the friend behind the aluminum frame, after months of training, it's still exhausting.
Completely different body mechanics than I've been doing all along. said Gray. It's not something you can substitute pushing 200 plus pounds in a chair. There's not a machine at the gym or anything you can do that specifically hones in on the muscles you use.
Gray says it will be both physically and emotionally draining every day, but he's getting excited about the mission.
It's cool. There's an electricity that flares up during the day whether I'm at home or at work, that's oh my gosh, we are actually doing this, said Gray.
HOW YOU CAN HELP
To have the Boise community really embrace us and embrace me has been beyond words. It's been super amazing to be embraced and to just feel loved is awesome, said Skeesuck.
The pair has been raising money in several different ways for their trip. You can donate directly for their cost of the trip, through their website.
They have a Kickstarter page set up for a camera crew to accompany them to make a documentary and still need funds to make that happen. There is also a benefit concert for the trip on Saturday, May 3.
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