SH: What inspired you guys to leave your families for the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage across northern Spain?
J: We had been planning on doing a “guy trip” for quite a while, but it just hadn't panned out. On a lazy Saturday in the spring of 2012, I was watching Rick Steves, a European travel guru, on Public Access Television. The episode was on Northern Spain. The show was about Pamplona, the running of the bulls and Hemingway’s influence on the culture, and about the Camino de Santiago. This 500-mile pilgrimage through Spain just seemed to resonate with me.
A few weeks later, Patrick and his family were down visiting me and my family in San Diego for spring break. I had recorded the episode and showed it to Patrick. As the episode wrapped up, I asked Patrick “So, do you want to go across 500 miles of Northern Spain with me?” Patrick’s reply was simple and direct: “l’ll push you!”
Two years later, after a lot of planning and preparing, we were off. It was just one of those things that we knew we had to do, but weren’t sure why at the time.
Some people say the Camino “calls” you. In our case, it was true.
SH: What was the most challenging part of your journey?
J: Physically, the most challenging piece of the journey would have to be split into two parts. The first day going over the Pyrenees mountains was remarkably difficult. From our knowledge, it had never been attempted in a wheelchair.
Our good friend Ted Hardy was with us and the physical strain the 4,000 foot climb had us tapping into reserves we didn't know even existed. We trudged through thick mud and climbed up ascents with some sections as steep as 25%. There were moments where the 13-mile day seemed an impossibility.
In addition to the pushing and pulling Ted and Patrick had to do to keep my specialized off-road wheelchair moving forward, it was my job to keep the chair straight and make sure it didn't tip over. In order to do so, I had to consistently counterbalance by leaning to the right when the trail sloped to the left and vice versa. It was all day and was brutal on all of us!
Additionally, the constant pushing of the chair, day in and day out over the course of a month, took a major toll on Patrick’s body. Towards the end of our journey, there were days we weren't sure his legs would make it because of major cramping and knots.
We are all pretty certain that there was some divine energy provided to keep us going.
SH: How did the trip change you?
P: With so much time spent together and so much time to reflect on our lives, we were brought closer together, gained a greater appreciation for our wives and their love and support for us, and the love for our kids increased. However, the most significant change was the recognition of God’s provision through the relationships we possess.
This was probably more true for me than Justin. He had already let go of so much and has lived life in a way where he has openly embraced the help of others. He continues to do so in a beautiful way. Justin’s recognition of the joy and power there is in letting others help him has opened my eyes to appreciate a whole new perspective. So many times, God’s provision for us rests in our willingness to accept the help of those we encounter.
SH: I’m sure you guys had to pack light, but after having done the trip, what one extra item do you wish you had brought in your bags while on the journey? Any weird cravings?
Both: We actually packed very strategically and had everything we needed. So much of the Camino is about having and using less. All that said, we would have loved to have had a proper pillow. A sleeping bag filled with dirty clothes had to suffice.
SH: What was the greatest lesson you learned while on the journey?
P: At about 300 miles into the journey, we had arrived at a monument called the “Cruz de Ferro” which was on our second mountain pass. This iron cross is a place where pilgrims traditionally leave something behind, most commonly, a stone brought from home. Initially, I hadn't considered leaving anything behind but, as we stood there at the base of a mound of millions of stones, I was struck by how much grief, regret, and loss was represented in all the stones left by millions of previous pilgrims.
I started thinking about what had held me back throughout the years. Why had I never truly stepped out in faith until this journey? For my life to be full and for God to use me, that had to continue.
Living by faith meant letting go of the safety I had known. Hanging onto safety had prevented me from experiencing so much of God’s beauty.
A friend and coworker had given me a “prayer angel” medallion before we left and had told me, “I will be praying for your safety.”
We both believe she had given it to me so I could physically leave safety behind at the foot of the cross.
For Justin, that moment was different, as opposed to leaving anything behind, he experienced an intense validation that he was on the right path in life. Justin had already left so much behind, the iron cross was more of a reminder of those things he no longer held onto, and affirmed that he had left behind what he no longer needed in life.
SH: Many people from all over the world hike the Camino. While on your trip, if you could have crossed paths with anyone in the world, who would you have liked it to be? Why?
Both: This is a difficult question, but if we had to pick one person it would have been each of our wives. Even if only for a day or two, we would have loved for them to be able to experience even a fraction of what we were exposed to.
SH: Who was the most interesting person that did actually cross your path?
Both: One German pilgrim we met had been walking the various routes of the Camino for the past 15 years. He owned only the clothes on his back, a small dog, and a flute. He played songs for fellow pilgrims to earn money. He’s relied on the kindness of complete strangers for his food and shelter. Definitely the most interesting person we met.
SH: Why are you making the film I’ll Push You about your journey in Spain? What do you hope people will get out of watching it?
P: Initially, we never intended to make a film. When I asked my boss at the time, Ed Castledine, for the six weeks of time off needed for the journey, he agreed – but on one condition. He said, “I’ll do everything in my power to get you the time off you need, but you have to do everything in your power to document your journey.” When I asked “Why?”, Ed replied, “Because to not share this story would be selfish and irresponsible. There is too much hope to not share it.”
So, Justin reached out to a old college friend, Terry Parish, who is one of the owners of a video agency in San Diego known as emota. He sat down with Terry and his team, shared the vision, and they were all in. They immediately recognized the hope in our story, the same hope Ed had recognized. The idea had been given life.
Our hope is that people will see a story they can identify with. One that is filled with struggles, but those challenges can be overcome through the strength and help of others.
We want the world to recognize our lives are not defined by our limitations, but instead, our lives are defined by what we accomplish in spite of our limitations.
SH: What’s next for you both? What’s next for I’ll Push You?
J: We are going wherever the journey takes us. In January of 2015, Patrick quit his job to join me in my business known as “The Disabled Traveler.” Together, we consult with businesses, helping them provide greater accessibility for persons with disabilities. We do this through Disability Etiquette Training, consulting on the design of buildings, and by creating value-based marketing campaigns to their customers with disabilities.
Additionally, the journey has led to unexpected speaking careers where we get the amazing privilege of sharing our story to tens of thousands of people across the U.S. We talk about the lessons we've learned on the pilgrimage like the power of community, leadership, provision, faith and the strength that lies within vulnerability.
As far as I’ll Push You is concerned, our current focus is finishing the film. There are some major hurdles we still need to get over like finalizing post-production and funding. Slowly but surely, we're getting there! In addition to the film, we are also working on writing a book about our pilgrimage; we’re currently in discussions with potential publishers. Pretty crazy!
SH: How did you guys build such an incredible friendship? Any tips for others?
Both: We have been truly blessed with this friendship. As we travel and speak, many are surprised that we have the relationship we do. Often, we are asked what it takes. For us, it is a combination of vulnerability, intentionality, and seeking experiences together.
No relationship can become open and intimate in nature unless both parties are willing to be open and vulnerable with one another. Laying everything on the table has allowed us to complement each other in powerful ways.
Intentionally pursuing time with one another, both as couples and families, has been imperative to the success in our friendship. It is so easy to let the business of life keep us from connecting and spending time, so we simply force the issue. We make it happen no matter what.
We also believe that shared experience is a critical part of any relationship. Since adventure doesn't usually just fall in our laps, we go out and find it. Whether it is camping, taking a much-needed weekend together or a trip across the ocean, we pursue exciting things together, which further cements the bond between us.
We also laugh... a lot!
SH: At Vessel, we believe that everyone is Filled with Purpose. Most of us spend a lifetime trying to discover what our purpose is. Have you guys discovered yours? If so, what is it?
Both: We believe all of us have the same purpose: to love others. By doing so, we get to be at the very place where heaven and earth intersect. People can know love or hate simply by who we choose to be in the day to day. Whatever an individual does for a living, they have the same purpose, to show love to the world. We believe that we each can be love and light no matter what circumstance we find ourselves in.