Cross-Country Wheelchair Trek Ends on Long Island

Gabriel Cordell

Gabriel Cordell rolled up in his wheelchair to the entrance of YMCA Glen Cove a day after completing 99 days of rolling 3, 100 miles from California to his native West Hempstead.

There, the 42-year-old breathed a sigh of relief and reflected upon being the first person to travel across the country in a manual wheelchair. He’s about to fly back to California to finish a documentary on the experience called, Roll With Me: A Journey Across America.

“I’m happy not to have to roll for a little while,” Cordell told a young YMCA camper who asked him how it felt to complete such an arduous trip. “It was relief. It was joy. It was happiness. It was exhaustion. It was awesome.”

Since he was in high school, Cordell said he wanted to do something that was inspirational. After being in a car accident that crushed his spinal cord and left him paralyzed from the waist down at the age of 22, he went to Rusk Institute of New York and spent three months in pediatrics with children ranging from new-born to 18 years old. He feels indebted to the institute and the YMCA for their help during his recovery.

“It taught me and showed me that I was very lucky to have 22 years of great health,” said Cordell. “It gave me power and confidence to do whatever I wanted and to be what I can be. God has a plan for me, being with those children made me forget about my problems.”

Completing 25 to 40 miles a day, Cordell averaged five miles an hour starting in Burbank, Calif. on April 1.  His goal was to show the nation, by example, that there is hope and everyone can achieve anything they set their minds to. He was inspired throughout the cross-country trip by his crew members who helped him through the rough days.

“Gabriel was hunched over in tears,” said Chris Yanke, a co-producer recalling how when Cordell reached Arizona, after 700 miles, his left shoulder gave out leaving him unable to lift his arm. Cordell questioned whether he was going to make it another 2,400 miles.

“With a lot of prayers, after two days, my arm healed,” said Cordell.

Cordell plans to take at least a year off before making his final trip to the Middle East, where he plans to roll across Israel to promote peace between Israel and Palestine.

“If you really try hard and never let anyone stop you, you can accomplish incredible things,” he told the children. “Each of you have the ability to do something great in your life and the only one that can stop you is yourself.”