Discover the story of two best friends--one in a wheelchair--who relied on faith to hike Spain's 500-mile El Camino.
Posted in , Oct 31, 2017
On Thursday, November 2, for one day only, lifelong best friends Justin Skeesuck and Patrick Gray will screen their documentary, I’ll Push You, in theaters across the country. It’s the story of their incredible—and seemingly impossible—journey through Spain’s famous El Camino de Santiago.
Many people have hiked the El Camino—a network of ancient pilgrim routes—but few have done it like Justin and Patrick. Justin has a rare and progressive autoimmune disease, Multifocal Acquired Motor Axonopathy, that means his muscles do not function typically, and he has been unable to move his upper and lower body since 2010. But once he shared his goal with his best friend, Patrick didn’t ask how Justin could achieve that goal, he simply said to Justin, “I’ll push you.” With their faith in God and determination to see this journey through, the duo successfully hiked the El Camino together for 34 days, with Patrick pushing Justin through the rough and rocky terrain.
In 2015, Guideposts.org spoke with Justin and Patrick about the miraculous ways God showed up to confirm that this journey was one they were not only meant to take but also to share with the world. At the last minute before their trip, they were able to get a film crew to join them on their way to Spain and document the excursion. They’d shared with Guideposts.org their desire to release the film about faith and friendship. This week, that desire becomes a reality. Proceeds from ticket sales will also benefit the Muscular Dystrophy Association.
Guideposts.org caught up with Justin and Patrick again to discuss how their lives have changed since their trip and why audiences need to see I’ll Push You.
GUIDEPOSTS.ORG: What does it feel like now that you’ve reached another goal on your El Camino journey by getting your documentary distributed nationwide?
JUSTIN SKEESUCK: I think we’re at the point where we’re real excited. So many people are excited to see the film. It’s very humbling but there’s also a lot of weight on us to get people out of their homes and out to see the film. But [to get to this point is] surreal. I never thought a theatrical release would allow me to be able to support [the Muscular Dystrophy Association,] an organization that has been there for me from the beginning. The funds we raise [selling tickets to the one-night screening] will help with research for cures. It’s very, very cool. It’s going to be such a wonderful night. We’re looking forward it.
GUIDEPOSTS.ORG: What’s the message you want people to take away from this film?
PATRICK GRAY: It's been interesting to watch the reactions of audiences when we've done private screenings of the film. There’s not one take away. The common thread people are walking away with is the desire to have more meaningful relationships. The biggest takeaway is we all have the capacity to invite people into our lives and be willing to engage with each other in more meaningful ways.
GUIDEPOSTS.ORG: What’s your advice for people on how to deepen their relationships?
PG: There's no set recipe, or magic sauce; for us, it's been about being very intentional. You have these people in your life, but how much time and energy are we willing to put into truly stepping into vulnerability and allowing people to know us? It’s the moments of Justin saying, “Hey, I can't do this on my own.” It’s allowing people to love all of who we are, to be vulnerable and open and honest. Christ knows all of who we are, so we have to willingly let people be all of who they are and love them anyway. It's work that is worth it. Your joys are multiplied and your pain and struggles are divided.
GUIDEPOSTS.ORG: How have your lives changed since returning from this trip and getting this film together?
PG: When we came back, I knew that I was not going to stay in my job for very long. We got back July 2014 and I put in my notice in October and left in January 2015. When I came home from work in mid-October my wife said, “You need to quit; it’s time.” That was a very clear affirmation that we’re on the same page so we talked to the kids about it and even though I was letting go of a lot of certainty, the job was having a negative impact on my family because of how I was letting it affect me. Now, I have so much more time with my family and now the work stress comes from something we’re passionate about [traveling the country speaking about I’ll Push You with Justin]. Despite uncertainty there is peace calm and joy in my house that has not been there before. You ask my 3 kids what they think, and they’ll say, “Ok, we can’t do some of the things we did before,” but they got their dad back.
JS: I didn’t have a job like Patrick did. I’ve been at home since my middle son was born, so 12.5 years I’ve been home. The biggest difference is traveling. [Patrick and I are] not gone for weeks on end, but my wife gets a break she doesn’t have to care for me when I’m on the road. Sometimes, our wives get to travel with us. My wife is truly remarkable. She supports me and says, “I love you,” and we figure it out as we go.
GUIDEPOSTS.ORG: There is a caregiving element to your friendship and also between you and your wife, Justin. How has caregiving impacted your relationships?
JS: In my role in my marriage with my wife, I recognize wholeheartedly she’s going way above and beyond what a [typical] spouse does. She has to be healthy for us to have a healthy marriage. So, my role in our marriage is to make sure she gets the time that she needs to be healthy. It takes a lot of humility in order for me to get there.
For example, in two weeks, she wants to go to a women’s retreat. That requires someone to come in and care for me in the way that she normally does so that she can go get recharged. In order for me to do that, sometimes Patrick helps and in this case it’s going to be my parents. It’s nothing more humbling than being 42 and having my parents wipe my backside. But it’s something I need to have done so I can suck it up for a few days so that my wife can be recharged to do what she does for me.
It’s a two-way street. It’s not just me taking from her. I’m always looking to take care of her too. She needs that. She deserves that.
PG: My background is in nursing, so I spent a lot of time bedside, and it’s different when you’re caring for your friend because there’s an intimacy that doesn’t exist with a patient. There’s a tendency [as a caregiver] to give more than you’re capable of and people get worn out, they get burned out. My ability to be a caregiver [for Justin] gives Kristin a break. It’s not a gift that I give it’s one that I get. When you open up and willingly give to someone, there’s a remarkable amount of reciprocity that happens when you get to help somebody.
There are so many times that Justin is, in turn, helping me. Whatever struggle we deal with, there’s a space where his thoughts, his emotions, his words teach me or coach me to be a better person. That’s what we do for each other—willingly give and willingly receive.