After being born a little over a day apart, Justin Skeesuck and Patrick Gray forged a life-long friendship that has lasted 38 years, with many twists and turns along the way. When a car accident confined Skeesuck to a wheelchair at the age of 16, Gray was there to support his best friend throughout his ordeal and make sure his disposition didn’t hold him back from living his life. Back in 2011, Skeesuck was inspired to trek 500 miles across the El Camino de Santiago in Spain after watching a TV program, and he knew just who he wanted by his side.
“We want to actively promote physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health and wellness,” Skeesuck and Gray write on their website I’ll Push You. “Through this, we will celebrate the human spirit and the value of friendship by creating opportunities for personal transformation.”
Starting on June 3, the two best friends began their journey at St. Jean Pied de Port on the French side of the Pyrenees to Roncesvalles. Both Skeesuck and Gary had no illusions as to how hard their trek would be through the mountainous terrain of the Camino, also known as the “Way of St. James.” Through perilous ascending and descending slopes, rivers, and 10-inch-thick mud, the duo pressed on while relying on the help of strangers. Gray said that, at one point, 17 people who they had never met before from 10 different countries were helping them achieve their goal.
"Day 1 will literally live on in infamy as the hardest physical, mental and spiritual challenge I have ever or will ever encounter. It was mind-bogglingly difficult to ascend the mountain with the chair,” Gray told the NY Daily News. “But you don't really know what you can do until you're faced with a difficult challenge. Honestly, through some divine intervention we were given the strength to continue. (We) were gonna have faith that people would show up and help, and they did, time and time again."
In spite of their quite literal uphill battle, the pair of life-long best friends emerged from the treacherous Camino unscathed on July 7 — 35 days after they started. Gray could only describe the feeling of crossing the finish line and being reunited with their family as "the most perfect joy that you could have." After only recently completing their 500 mile journey, Skeesuck and Gary are already planning their next adventure, which could include scuba diving or an African safari.