“AN EXPERIMENT IN HUMANITY”
AUSTIN RUDICEL ‘20 | STAFF WRITER • Last Sunday, Wabash had the privilege of not only screening an award-winning documentary, but was also able to bring the two extraordinary men who the documentary is about to campus for a question and answer session following the film. I’ll Push You is a heartwarming tale of two lifelong best friends going on a seemingly impossible journey across the Camino de Santiago, a 500-mile long pilgrimage route across Spain. Although the trail is a difficult for anyone to traverse, the challenge in this story is that one of the men is confined to a wheelchair.
Patrick Gray and Justin Skeesuck were born merely hours apart from each other and have been bestfriends for 43 years. From childhood shenanigans all the way into adulthood, the two developed an unbreakable bond that can overcome any challenge thrown at them. When Skeesuck was diagnosed with Multifocal Acquired Motor Axonopathy (MAMA), a rare disease similar to ALS that can cause weakness in movement and even complete loss of mobility, Gray stood by his best friend and was willing to assist in any way he could.
One day in 2012, Skeesuck watched a special from the Public Broadcasting Service that talked about Spain and described the pilgrimage across the Camino. When hearing about the struggles pilgrims were forced to overcome on the trail, he had an
overwhelming urge to go on this journey and knew exactly who he wanted to go with. Without hesitation, he called Gray and told him about the trip. The title of the documentary came from Patrick’s response; “I’ll push you.”
The idea to make this adventure into something beyond two people’s journey and into something that can be shared with the world came to Gray when he requested to his boss that he would need six weeks off to make the trip.
“My boss told me this idea was too inspiring that we would be “selfish and irresponsible” if we did not document it,” Gray said. From that, Skeesuck contacted a friend from college who works at a video production company and informed him on his plans to film the trip. After two years of careful planning, the journey began. On their trip, the two had opportunities to learn things they had never known about themselves, each other, and people in general. “It was more than a journey,” Gray said. “This was an experiment in humanity.” Along the way, the two met strangers who were willing to help out and push Skeesuck and share in the experience. As Skeesuck was pushed by new friends, he asked them to talk about their life and shared his with them. Gray also learned to open up to strangers and allow them to take over for him and push his best friend when he needed a break. Through this openness and vulnerability with other humans, the two were able to overcome something that seemed impossible.
“Nothing is too difficult if you embrace others,” Gray said. As humans, people often want to do things independently and are often afraid to ask for help, but the two learned that this is the key to success in life.
“It opened new doors and allowed us to exceed our weaknesses,” Skeesuck said. Once the journey ended, the process of turning over 600 hours of footage into a film began. Gray and Skeesuck had little experience editing film, so they let the video company guide them in their creative vision. There was one aspect that Skeesuck required to be in the film and that was a particular song, “Live it Well” by Switchfoot.
“When I first heard it, I knew it had to be in the film,” Skeesuck said. The song gives a fitting, inspirational ending to the documentary that left audiences with warm smiles and appreciation for humanity. The documentary went on to win awards at Newport Beach Film Festival and the Audience Choice award at Heartland Film Festival and continues to inspire people to embrace strangers with compassion.
“It is about humanity at its finest; a story of the purest love and compassion,” Gray said.
A driving force on the journey for Skeesuck and Gray was their willingness to create meaningful relationships with others and their desire to make eachother better men. These ideas can be integrated into the Wabash brotherhood as the campus should always look for ways to help others overcome their weaknesses and make them into better men.
Skeesuck and Gray are currently traveling across the country to share their experience with others. With one book released in June 2017 and a children’s book coming out
in the near future, the two have a lot to share and inspire from their experiences and lessons learned from their time on the Camino de Santiago.