Seasoned Camino fans might remember ‘I’ll Push You’, the 2017 documentary following lifelong friends Justin Sheesuck and Patrick Gray as they embarked upon a unique journey along the Camino Frances. Justin struggles with a rare neurological disease which confines him to a wheelchair. After telling his best friend of his dream to complete the Camino de Santiago, Patrick answered ‘I’ll Push You’. They followed up the film with an acclaimed book, aswell many talks, interviews and events.
The dynamic duo is back with a very special tour this year in association with Caminoways.com. They also have some slots available for next year’s tour. You can find out more here:
I’ll Push You Accessible Camino June 2020
We caught up with them to discover what its all about:
For those who aren’t familiar with your story can you explain briefly how the initial I’ll Push You film came about?
Justin: I first learned about the Camino while watching an episode of Rick Steves’ Europe, a public access television show here in the US. While I’m not the hiking, backpacking type, every part of me felt called to do this. When I broached the idea with Patrick, his immediate response was, “I’ll Push You.” This whole thing started out as a journey the two of us would take. We never set out to make a film or write a book.
Patrick: When I requested time off from my employer at the time, he got excited about the journey, my friendship with Justin, and the potential to share what we have with others. He said, “I’ll do everything in my power to get you 6 weeks off, but you have to promise me you will do everything in your power to document this on film.”
When I asked him why, he said, “Because if you don’t, you’re selfish and irresponsible. There’s too much hope to not share this.”
What was the biggest challenge you faced on the Camino that first time?
The challenges were many, but the sheer physicality of the Pyrenees with a wheelchair was brutal. That first day took us 13½ hours, 10 of which were the climb up to the top of the Napoleon Route.
What did you realise about yourself during the journey?
Justin: This might sound weird but the Camino solidified a truth that seems counter-intuitive. While my disease has taken much of my independence, I have some freedom in my power wheelchair. I can go where I want when I want. But on the trail, we had to use a manual chair, which means I had absolutely zero control. But by placing everything in the hands of others, I was able to experience so much. Through giving up the last bit of my independence, I gained more of it.
Patrick: The Meseta wrecked me. Those long days of unchanging landscape forced me to face who I was at the time. I had allowed my career to become more important than my family. My desire to be the provider for my wife and children turned into a misguided mission. My pursuit of a larger salary, and to be the best I could be in my career meant I wasn’t there for my family. The Meseta opened my eyes to who I was and showed me who I wanted to be. Since then, my priorities have shifted. The most important things we can provide others, especially those we love, are time, attention, and pursuit.
What do you think makes the Camino special?
The Camino brings people together in powerfully intimate ways. The level of connection one experiences when walking with others is something that we struggle to find in our everyday lives—but it is something everyone desperately needs.
We met a host of characters on the trail, people from all walks of life, individuals walking for different reasons. But everyone we have talked with about their experience has realized something about themselves. Regardless of the reasons for embarking on such a journey, the time people have with themselves and others reveals something to them—parts of their character, events in their past, trauma, regrets, etc. You can’t help but grow into a better person when you face these things.
You have been travelling around doing lots of talks and interviews since your journey. What’s the message you are trying to get across?
While the events we are a part of vary, there is one constant in every group of people. Regardless of the organization, business, or conference attendees we speak with, everyone is longing for deeper connections. Healthy relationships are at the heart of everything that is worthwhile. Our message constantly points to the truth that together, we can do more and do it better.
What do you hope to gain from going back and doing the Camino again?
Our desire is simple, we want others who would otherwise never make it to the Camino to have the opportunity to experience its beauty.
Can you tell us a little bit about your upcoming Accessible Camino trip?
After we got back from our wheelchair Camino, people started calling and emailing, asking for advice on how to do the Camino in a wheelchair. After six or seven calls, we put our heads together and talked through how we could make the journey possible for people with limited mobility. Working with Camino Ways, we were able to remove many of the barriers for folks in wheelchairs.
How many people are you taking with you?
For our first Accessible Camino (Fall, 2019), we have 11 people with varying degrees of limited mobility joining us. To help get the group from Sarria to Santiago, we also have 36 people coming along to help push, pull, and carry others whenever needed.
It’s a very ambitious project, what can people expect in terms of support and comfort if they join?
We have tried to address the issues that come up for individuals who live life in wheelchairs. Lodging is one of the biggest concerns. To address this, we chose the Hotel Gelmirez in Santiago as our home base. Recently renovated, Hotel Gelmirez offers accessible rooms with roll-in showers or zero entry showers for those who need them. Each day we will bus to our starting point, walk/roll to our destination, spend some time in the town we arrive in, and then bus back to Santiago for a group dinner.
Some people have asked, “Why aren’t you staying in each town?”
While we would love to do this, finding accessible rooms and having access to bathrooms/showers for those who need daily care just isn’t possible.
Another major concern is wheelchair transportation. We have accessible vehicles available for private airport transfers and to get our group to and from each day’s start and finish. We even have an accessible vehicle available throughout each day, should someone need it.
Do you have anything special planned to mark the end of the journey?
We do! After we complete our journey, we will have a day to rest in Santiago before returning home. To celebrate our journey, we will attend a “Tastes of Galicia” tapas lunch and that evening we will have a celebratory dinner at the Parador Hotel.
Will we see ‘I’ll Push You Two: The Sequel’?
We don’t have plans for a sequel to the film. Right now, our focus is making the Camino a reality for as many people who face mobility challenges as possible. Will this lead to something else? Maybe. But right now, this is where we are placing our efforts.
Your story to date has been so inspirational, what’s next for the two of you?
The plan, for now, is to continue to speak, write, and make adventures possible for others. September 3rd, marks the release of our next book titled, Imprints: The Evidence Our Lives Leave Behind, we head out for our first Accessible Camino on September 26th, and we have two more we are doing in June of 2020.
Our June 20-28, 2020 Accessible Camino still has some open spots and we would love to see more people come along, especially families with children who have limited mobility!
To learn more visit:
I’ll Push You Accessible Camino June 2020
For more information on any of our walking or cycling tours, contact the travel specialists