Looking back on our own pilgrimage experience, we rejoice and are thrilled to remember June 2019, when we had the opportunity to meet Patrick Gray y Justin Skeesuck. They are two American pilgrims, two lifelong friends, responsible for the project“I’ll Push You (“I’ll Push You”), an initiative with a very important very important solidarity and inclusive componentbecause with it they intend that pilgrims with reduced mobility and different illnesses can walk the Camino de Santiago..
Have they succeeded? Yes indeed, check it out here! And what’s more, they are going to do it again, which we celebrate together with them. We believe that your initiative has a great human value, a great pilgrim value, and we want to help you and make you more aware of it.and we want to help them and make them even more aware of this this solidarity and inclusive project, “I’ll Push You”..
Todos los viajes para hacer el Camino de Santiago con tu perro
Over the past few weeks we have been in contact with Patrick and Justin and asked them for an interview about their project, “I’ll Push You“knowing that they will be returning to the will return to the Camino de Santiago in the coming Holy Year 2022.. Charming as always, they kindly agreed to answer our questions, and we are pleased to tell you how it went.
How was this project born?
Justin and I have been friends our whole lives. When we were kids, we always rode bikes, built forts and spent time outdoors. Then, when Justin started having symptoms of his illness, we had to gradually change our expectations of what we could and could not do. It was subtle at first, but eventually Justin could no longer walk or use his hands.
Even though he has been living life from a wheelchair for many years, we have never stopped traveling or looking for the next adventure. But sometimes those adventures find you.
The beginning of our Camino was very unexpected.
It all started when Justin saw a Rick Steeves special focusing on Spain. The episode ended with some information about the Camino de Santiago and Justin thought, “I wonder if I can do that in my wheelchair”.
A few weeks later, I went to visit him and, together with his family, we watched the episode. When he finished, he turned to me and asked, “Do you want to cross 500 miles of northern Spain with me?”
“I’ll push you,” was my reply.
We set out to do what no one had done at that time: to travel from Saint Jean a Pied-de-Port to Santiago de Compostela in a wheelchair in June 2014.
What is the goal of I’ll Push You?
Originally, there was no goal, just two friends taking on the impossible. But after we returned from Spain, people started asking us to share our story. This soon led to further travels around the US to give talks about this experience.
Many people are hungry for hope and desperate to find good in the world. Sometimes they need a reminder that it starts with stepping into someone else’s story and being the hope they are looking for.
Now, everything we do is focused on how we can be hope and strength for others. Our most recent efforts are our Accessible Walks where we take people with disabilities or limited mobility on the last 100 kilometers of the Camino.
How was the project received? What’s next?
The Accessible Pathways have been a great success. We did our first trail in 2019 and places sold out very quickly. When people discover that they have the opportunity to make someone else’s dream come true, they are ready to participate.
Despite the COVID pandemic, travel restrictions and multiple cancellations, we are fully booked for 2022 and people are already on the waiting list for 2023.
Apart from the Way of St. James, what else do you do?
Our wheelchair journey has led us to many new things. Over the past few years, we have been speaking at conferences and events around the world sharing our story. Our goal is to challenge others to see beyond their perceived limitations.
We have also written several best-selling books and the Camino resulted in an award-winning documentary entitled I’ll Push You.
You and Justin did the Camino from Saint Jean a Pied-de-Portright? Which area of Spain has been more complicated and why?
Indeed, we started in Saint Jean a Pied-de-Port and walked/rolled along the Route Napoléon. While there were many difficult sections, the mud and climbing on that first day were definitely the hardest.
Will you return in 2022 to the Camino de Santiago? On which routes can we find you?
In 2022, we will make two accessible paths. From the 11th to the 19th of June we will be on the French Way and from the 22nd to the 30th of June we will be travelling along the Portuguese Way.
Could everyone participate in the project?
Anyone can sign up, but both volunteers and those who need help must meet certain criteria.
Volunteers must be physically able to push and pull a wheelchair. While we welcome everyone to join, they must be able to contribute to the physical nature of these trips.
Those who need assistance must be able to travel independently or bring someone with them to help with daily activities. If someone needs help with showering, dressing, etc., they should bring someone to help them with those needs.
We do not accept people who are medically fragile, require oxygen or are unable to use a manual wheelchair.
To help prevent injuries, our goal is a 5 to 1 ratio of helpers for those who need assistance. This means that we need quite a few helpers and we can take people with all kinds of disabilities.
Past sponsors have included people with spinal cord injuries, multiple sclerosis, autoimmune diseases, severe arthritis, visual impairments and cerebral palsy.
As you can see, they are very serious. These very human pilgrims, whom we have had the opportunity to meet in person, offer a very rewarding experience to all those pilgrims with difficulties to do the Camino de Santiago. Humanity, companionship, effort and sacrifice without expecting anything in return are the values that are the protagonists of this project, and the joy that they manage to provoke in the participants is very exciting.