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06 June 2017

'I'll Push You' - a testament to the bonds of love and friendship along the Camino de Santiago

Patrick and Justin on the Camino de Santiago in Spain. Photo: © IllPushYou.com. Unauthorized use is prohibited.
Patrick and Justin on the Camino de Santiago in Spain. Photo: © IllPushYou.com. Unauthorized use is prohibited.

For more than 1,000 years, pilgrims from around the world have traveled along the Camino de Santiago or Way of Saint James; an ancient 500-mile pilgrimage that stretches from Saint Jean Pied de Port in southwestern France, to Santiago de Compostela, Spain, in the northwestern region of the country. While most pilgrims travel by foot with mounted backpacks, others ride bikes or horses or mules. But there is one mode of transport not many consider an option and may deem downright impossible, except for two dreamers from Idaho, one of whom heard the call of the Camino de Santiago and also just happens to use a wheelchair. "I'll Push You" is a remarkable testament to the unconditional bonds of friendship—chronicles of their spiritual trek across the Camino filled with stories of love, sacrifice, perseverance and community.

Best friends since childhood, Patrick and Justin, born two days apart, grew up together, set out on adventures together and faced life's obstacles together as well. But at the age of 16, Justin was diagnosed with a rare neuromuscular disease, multifocal acquired motor axonopathy or MAMA for short, a disease that causes the immune system to attack the nervous system, specifically the motor nerves as opposed to sensory nerves. Despite the spread of the disease, life went on and their bonds strengthened into an extraordinary relationship of unconditional love.

At the age of four, Patrick, friend and Justin. Photo: © IllPushYou.com. Unauthorized use is prohibited.
At the age of four, Patrick, friend and Justin. Photo: © IllPushYou.com. Unauthorized use is prohibited.

What makes their friendship so special? In the book Patrick explains, "We choose to share life's adventures. I make his 'I wonders' mine, and he makes my 'I wonders' his. We pursue life together."

One afternoon, Justin was watching a Rick Steves special about the Camino de Santiago and wondered how he could embark on such an epic trek across northern Spain. As Justin dreamed of his adventure, Patrick and family arrived for their annual get-together and Justin proposed his idea to Patrick. As he anxiously awaited his response, three words that would transform their lives soon followed, "I'll Push You."

What may have seemed an impossible feat for someone who is physically challenged like Justin, was becoming a reality for two best friends who dared to pursue their passions for life. After two years of planning and preparation, not to mention the rigors of physical training that Patrick underwent to prepare for the journey, the two embarked for Saint Jean Pied de Port, France, one of the many starting point of the Camino de Santiago.

'The impossible is possible!' Photo: © IllPushYou.com. Unauthorized use is prohibited.
"The impossible is possible!" Photo: © IllPushYou.com. Unauthorized use is prohibited.

In the beginning of their adventure, nearly everyone they've met dismissed the possibility of them traversing the "way of St. James" when they realized that Justin used a wheelchair. But their faith proved to be much stronger and so with unswerving courage and dedication to each other, they met the physical demands of the challenge and rose to the occasion. Though their exertions and hardships would sometimes push them to their physical limits, it wasn't until they met a Basque farmer in the Pyrenees that they knew they were on the right track. He told them, "the impossible is possible." With this confirmation and newfound encouragement, they forged ahead, trekked up and over the very same mountains that the cynics claimed wasn't possible. "The impossible is possible."

The road to Santiago certainly presented its challenges. One of the guys' friends, Ted, is out front while Patrick maintains a steady course at the helm. Photo: © IllPushYou.com. Unauthorized use is prohibited.
The road to Santiago certainly presented its challenges. One of the guys' friends, Ted, is out front while Patrick maintains a steady course at the helm while they trudge through muddy slopes in the Pyrenees. Photo: © IllPushYou.com. Unauthorized use is prohibited.

Throughout the journey, Patrick and Justin met pilgrims from 27 different countries, all of whom wanted to contribute in some small way to their heroic plight. I laughed and I cried through the struggle and the outpouring of love, kindness and generosity from fellow pilgrims; some became friends who traveled alongside, while others interrupted their own lives, even pulled off the road, to offer assistance during some of the most challenging terrains of the hike. And just when you thought their endurance reached its limit and that finally, they would succumb to utter exhaustion; just when you thought all hope was lost, a fellow peregrino (pilgrim) appeared to offer help during the times they needed it most. An old adage that you hear quite often from pilgrims who have completed the Camino de Santiago is that the "Camino provides"—in those words, the truth!

Not only did the Camino present its outward struggles, the guys looked inward as well. This scene shows Patrick and Justin standing before the Cruz de Ferro (Iron Cross) and was one of the most poignant and profound moments in the book. Photo: © IllPushYou.com. Unauthorized use is prohibited.
Not only did the Camino present its outward struggles, the guys looked inward as well. This scene shows Patrick and Justin standing before the Cruz de Ferro (Iron Cross) and was one of the most poignant and profound moments in the book. Photo: © IllPushYou.com. Unauthorized use is prohibited.

As much as "I'll Push You" is a story about the physical demands of hiking along the Camino de Santiago, it's also a spiritual journey for our two pilgrims as they look inward and reflect upon each of their life's circumstances—where they've been and where they're going. I empathized with their internal struggles so much so that the tears poured out during much of their introspection; and then more tears flowed as I rejoiced in their revelations and triumphs—all the while witnessing their transformations within. Our pilgrims certainly have found their way!

By the end of Camino, 500 miles and 35 days later, our pilgrims arrived in Santiago de Compostela. Greeted by friends, strangers and their families—mission accomplished! You've got this guys!

As Justin said during an interview on the "Today" show, "You don't have to be defined by your limitations. It's what you do in spite of those limitations that defines you."

'I'll Push You' - a powerful story and testament to the unconditional bonds of friendship. Photo: © IllPushYou.com. Unauthorized use is prohibited.
"I'll Push You" - a powerful story and testament to the unconditional bonds of friendship. Photo: © IllPushYou.com. Unauthorized use is prohibited.

What's Next for our intrepid pilgrims?



According to a Facebook Live post from Justin and Patrick on the day before their book released, they shared some exciting news about their upcoming film due to release later this year as well as children's book next spring. Learn more about about these incredible heroes, the book and the movie at IllPushYou.com.

Available in hardcover, paperback and audio, you can find their book on IllPushYou.com, Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Justin and Patrick pause for a moment to enjoy a stunning sunset as they reflect upon their journey. Photo: © IllPushYou.com. Unauthorized use is prohibited.
Justin and Patrick pause for a moment to enjoy a stunning sunset as they reflect upon their journey. Photo: © IllPushYou.com. Unauthorized use is prohibited.

While I received an advanced copy of "I'll Push You" through the generosity and kindness of two pilgrims who let no obstacle stand in their way, all opinions are my own. Epiphanies however are for all of us to rejoice and celebrate.

Buen Camino!

6 comments:

  1. Inspiring story, Jeff! Thanks for sharing. I'll look for the book, and film.

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    1. Hi there Lesley and thanks so much for stopping by! This book is a must-read! Now, I can't wait for the film!

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    2. It shows what a special guy Patrick is for wanting to take Justin on the Journey of Camino de Santiago to make his dream come true. It shows the love and the faith they have in their friendship for all their lives. In reading the article and seeing the preview of the movie brought tears to my eyes more than once. Thanks Jeff, anonymous your friend

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    3. Hello my Anonymous friend and thank you for stopping by. I cried so many times throughout the book and I am sure the movie will evoke the same feelings as we witness the struggle, courage and triumph, not to mention love! Here's to Patrick and Justin!

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  2. Such a moving story. Thank you, Jeff, for highlighting this story of love and deep friendship. It moved me to tears.

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    1. Hi there Marlys! This book is wonderful...and I cheered and sobbed through all the struggles and triumphs, and the inspiring and generous humanity that flows through many of their fellow pilgrims. If you haven't read it yet, please do. You will love it as much as I do! Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing your thoughts!

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