With the help of his best friend, wheelchair-bound man tackles 800-km El Camino de Santiago pilgrimage

Nadine Kalinauskas
Good News

When Justin Skeesuck was 16, a car accident triggered a rare progressive autoimmune/neuromuscular disease that eventually robbed him of the use of his limbs. By his mid-20s, he was using a wheelchair full-time.

The condition didn't, however, rob him of his love of travel.

"I've found that traveling is THE BEST way to experience other cultures, forge new and exciting relationships, and gain a greater understanding of yourself," Justin wrote on his website, The Disabled Traveler. "Yes, there are many challenges that comes with that but, in the end, the experiences and memories my family and I now share has made all of my efforts worth it!"

In 2012, Skeesuck saw a television program about the 800-kilometre El Camino de Santiago pilgrimage in northern Spain. He immediately knew it was for him.

"When I first learned about it, it was like something deep inside me was calling me to do it. Almost like I had to do it," he wrote.

Skeesuck showed the episode to his childhood best friend, Patrick Gray.

Gray's response: "I'll push you."

On June 3, the friends set off on the long journey, with Gray pushing Skeesuck in a specialized off-road manual wheelchair.

"We believe in some way, all of us have limitations. We can be limited by ailments (like mine), circumstances, perceptions, or resources. At worst, these limitations can invite despair, stagnation, or aggression. They can make us stop in our tracks if we let them," Skeesuck wrote on CaminoWays.com.

"But what if we swallow pride, soften our exteriors, admit these limitations, and ask for help? Can we learn that to achieve our goals requires trust and faith in others? Even when it’s difficult to communicate with others? Can you imagine what is possible?"

As of this morning, Skeesuck and Gray have traveled 600 of the pilgrimage's 800 kilometres.

"Our journey will soon come to an end. While sad, it also leaves me with a sense of great accomplishment…something I can be proud of," Skeesuck blogged.

"As I look down onto the valley that will be taking Patrick and I into Santiago, I can’t help but wonder what lies ahead, but also am amazed at the markers/milestones that lie behind us. We have now traveled over 600 km and can see that we are on the homestretch."

Follow the friends' adventure on the Camino blog here.