For over 20 years a progressive neuromuscular disease has slowly taken away Justin Skeesuck’s ability to use his arms and legs. From the time he wakes up in the morning until he goes to sleep at night, Justin requires assistance in every aspect of life such as eating, getting dressed, bathing, and even using the restroom. The new one-night-only film event ‘I’ll Push You’ 500-mile journey tells about Justin and his best friend Patrick’s deep friendship.
Despite these daunting challenges, Justin continues to live life to the fullest. He demonstrates a positive attitude and a great sense of humor through it all!
In 2012, Justin learned about the Camino de Santiago while watching Rick Steves on Public Access TV. Soon after, he asked his lifelong friend, Patrick, what he thought about tackling the ancient pilgrimage. Patrick simply and directly responded, “I’ll push you.”
Two years later, they began their journey with absolutely no idea how they would make the 500 miles from Southwest France to the Cathedral in Santiago; over several mountain ranges like the Pyrenees, through rivers, and across the vast “desert of Spain” called the Meseta; but they knew they had to make the journey!
Justin and Patrick had to rely on the help and strength of friends, acquaintances, and even complete strangers to navigate the many challenges they faced on their 35-day journey. The pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela dates to the ninth century, when the body of the apostle St. James was discovered. Scholars believe St. James was a great evangelist in Spain, during the reign of King Alfonso II (792-842). Gradually, people started trekking to Santiago to honor St. James at the Cathedral which was built over the site of his tomb. Between the 12th and 13th centuries, the pilgrimage became established and popular.
Especially in the last 30 years there has been great growth and interest in this pilgrimage. Growing number of pilgrims travel on foot, by bike, on horseback, and now, in a wheelchair! Those who take this pilgrimage find transformation as they unplug from the world and live in community together.
In June 2014, Justin Skeesuck and Patrick Gray, lifelong friends, embarked on their epic, five-and-a-half-week, 500-mile-long journey to hike Spain’s famed El Camino de Santiago (the way of St. James). This ancient pilgrimage along the vast terrain is challenging enough for the able-bodied; but these friends demonstrated the best of humanity by physically and mentally pushing each other, as Justin, fought a neuromuscular disease, and Patrick pushed Justin in a wheelchair.
To complete this daunting trek, they encountered many seemingly insurmountable obstacles and incredible, often amusing, setbacks. As the pair faced various challenges, they realized the greatest journey was of self-discovery – a sense of purpose, and love of a community. This is an amazing and inspirational documentary about friendship, endurance, humanity, and overcoming adversity.
Sonoma Christian Home sat down for a delightful interview with Justin Skeesuck (J), Patrick Gray (P), and director/writer Terry Parish (T) about the documentary I’ll Push You about Justin and Patrick trek on the Camino. SCH Editor At Large Dr. Diane Howard reports.
SCH: Why do so many make this journey and what do they get out of it?
J & T: They go for different reasons, but the outcome is consistent. They come face to face with who they are and whom they want to be. Their universally experience God and His love, especially through others.
SCH: Was there a journey of faith for you on this trip?
P & J: We grew in faith. We learned to let go beyond what we had experienced in the past. We were transformed spiritually.
SCH: What surprised you most on this trip?
J & P: We learned that a lot of humanity is still good. We were surprised by the loss of a wheelchair wheel and by the terrain.
SCH: What did you learn about friendship?
J & P: We drew closer together than ever. We gained a greater appreciation for each other. If we think we have arrived, we have failed. We learned to be more intentional.
SCH: What did you learn about community?
P: We learned that loving others should be in our DNA, just the way we live, and that it reflects how we love God. See Matthew 25: 34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ 37“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ 40“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
SCH: What did you learn about God?
P & T: He wants a relationship with us. God loves us anyway despite ourselves, just as we should love each other. We saw God in small acts of kindness and in relationships. We have learned to embrace relationship with Him and each other, to be motivated by love, to allow our hearts to intersect; and not love out of an agenda.
SCH: What did you learn about prayer?
J: Many were praying for us constantly. We felt it. It was beautiful and surreal. We saw how many people stepped up as answers to prayers.
SCH: What did you learn about the value of humor?
P: Humor was our cornerstone. It helps with challenges. If we can’t laugh, life will be a whole lot longer.
SCH: How do you want this movie to affect our culture?
T: It challenged my wife and me. It opened our hearts. We hope it will do the same for others that they might give grace to others and themselves.
SCH: Is there anything else about the movie that you want to share with others?
T: This is a one-night event, November 2, in theaters. We are partnering with The Muscular Dystrophy Association. This organization believes in living life, unlimited. The fight to free individuals (like Justin) and the families who love them from the debilitating effects of muscular dystrophy, ALS and related life-threatening diseases so they can live longer and grow stronger.
Following the screening of “I’ll Push You”, Grammy®-nominated music star and passionate MDA advocate, Billy Gilman, will talk with Justin, Patrick and co-director and producer, Terry Parish on what it means to “Live Unlimited.”
Our goal is to raise at least $25,000 to fund MDA research by this special one-night event.
The corresponding book I’ll Push You presents and chronicles a singular friendship. As a great complement to the film of the same title, it’s filled with beautifully honest stories written with humor and pain. This book is an unapologetic exploration of friendship, faith, and love. Writers, Patrick Gray and Justin Skeesuck, take the reader on two incredible journeys: their epic 500-mile wheelchair trek across Northern Spain on the ancient trail known as El Camino de Santiago and the story that is their lifelong friendship.
Justin Skeesuck and Patrick Gray are also motivational speakers. With powerful storytelling, they share their life experiences and their incredible 500-mile wheelchair journey through Spain to demonstrate how to overcome the great odds. Businesses and individuals alike discover through Justin and Patrick’s powerful message, how to be happier, more engaged, and more productive through the power of teamwork. Since returning from Spain, they have used their heartfelt storytelling to share the amusing and comical details of their journey that includes sharing their joys, struggles, beautiful relationships, and lessons they learned about faith, hope, love, and friendship.
Their goal with their movie is for others who see it to walk away recognizing that each life is not defined by its limitations, but is defined by what is accomplished despite limitations. Additionally, Justin and Patrick have founded Push Inc. to help organizations and individuals realize they can achieve more, together.
To learn more about this author, please visit Dr. Diane Howard
Be encouraged here daily!