How one man helped his best friend with a neuromuscular disorder hike 500 miles.
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One day, Justin Skeesuck asked his longtime friend Patrick Gray, "Do you want to go across 500 miles of northern Spain with me?"

He was talking about the Camino de Santiago — a pilgrimage hike which, on foot, usually takes about a month to complete.

Today, people of all different religious and cultural backgrounds make the journey for many different reasons, and it would be challenging for anyone.


It was especially challenging for Skeesuck, who doesn't have use of his arms or legs.

Justin with his wife Kristin. Image via MDA/YouTube.

Skeesuck uses a wheelchair and has minimal upper arm and upper torso mobility due to multifocal acquired motor axonopathy (MAMA), a type of neuromuscular disorder that affects the body's motor functions.  

However, this wasn't always the case. Before the disorder began to take hold, he and Gray had a very physically active friendship.

As kids, they only lived a few miles apart and would often skateboard to each other's houses. But, once they reached college, Skeesuck's foot began to weaken, so they had to hang up their boards.

The progression of Skeesuck's disorder changed the dynamic of his friendship with Gray forever.

Gray and Skeesuck. Image via MDA/YouTube.

The hardest adjustment came in January 2010, when Skeesuck lost the use of most of his upper body. That's when he and Gray went through a dark period where it was incredibly difficult to feel hopeful.

Then, slowly but surely, they began to adapt.

Since he can no longer dress himself, bathe himself, or feed himself, his loved ones — like Gray — stepped up to help him. While certainly challenging, it strengthened their bond in a big way.

Gray pushing Skeesuck in his wheelchair. Image via MDA/YouTube.

"His willingness to invite me into the rawest and most difficult parts of life demonstrated a trust few people are given," writes Gray in an email.

Skeesuck and Gray's decision to hike the Camino was by far the greatest challenge the friends had undertaken.

The Camino de Santiago. Image via MDA/YouTube.

Skeesuck found himself inextricably pulled to it, but he knew he couldn't make the pilgrimage without his best friend. And when he asked Gray if he'd come with him, he didn't hesitate. Gray simply replied, "Yeah, I'll push you."

What followed were two years of careful planning and 35 days of an adventure they would never forget.

The pilgrimage had never been done by someone in a wheelchair, so their strategy had to be planned down to the smallest detail. In the end, it took over 100 people helping out to make it feasible.

Skeesuck on the trail with his helping hands. Image via MDA/YouTube.

Gray trained for 12 months, six times a week, pushing himself to the limit. Three months before the journey, he was pushing Skeesuck on all types of terrain, working to increase his endurance up to 12 miles at a time.

Meanwhile, Skeesuck prepped in a different way. The trip was quite expensive, so he created a fundraising campaign to help get them there.

"The journey was made possible by countless individuals providing grassroots support," Skeesuck writes.

They went into it with no expectations. They came back with a newfound strength of those who live life without limits.

Skeesuck and Gray on the trail. Image via MDA/YouTube.

The journey was more challenging than they could've anticipated, often in ways that had nothing to do with physical efforts. Both friends missed their families immensely and faced many personal demons along the way. For one thing, it was hard for Skeesuck to watch Gray and fellow helpers push themselves beyond their physical limits.

In the end, however, it taught him that such an offering can be a gift for everyone involved, no matter who's doing the physical pushing.

"Being willing to let someone pick up something for us is just as much a gift for them as it is for us," Gray explains. "The flip side is obvious."

Their life-changing experience inspired Gray and Skeesuck to help push others to achieve more.

Gray and Skeesuck. Photo via "I'll Push You."

That's why they decided to share their story with the world in a new book and documentary film, both entitled "I’ll Push You." They also started Push Inc. to present the film, and they’ve partnered with the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA), which helps fund neuromuscular disorder and disease research that can lead to more people having experiences like this.

The film will be presented in more than 500 theaters across the county in a special one-night-only release and feature information about MDA and the work the organization does to support families like Justin’s.

That and Push Inc. are part of their post-Camino emphasis on motivating individuals and organizations to strive for what they thought was impossible. For Skeesuck, that starts with asking yourself why you want to get there.

"If your why is strong enough that no matter what you face you will continue on, then it’s time to look at the how," Skeesuck writes.

Everyone needs help every now and again. When that time comes, you'll want to have people you trust at your back, pushing you forward.

Watch Skeesuck and Gray's whole story here:

This beautiful friendship shows just how much is possible when you have a support system.

Posted by Upworthy on Wednesday, September 20, 2017
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Amazon

Shopping sustainably is increasingly important given the severity of the climate crisis, but sometimes it's hard to know where to turn. Thankfully, Amazon is making it a little easier to browse thousands of products that have one or more of 19 sustainability certifications that help preserve the natural world.

The online retailer recently announced Climate Pledge Friendly, a program to make it easier for customers to discover and shop for more sustainable products. To determine the sustainability of a product, the program partnered with third-party certifications, including governmental agencies, nonprofits, and independent labs.

With a selection of items spanning grocery, household, fashion, beauty, and personal electronics, you'll be able to shop more sustainably not just for the holiday season, but throughout the year for your essentials, as well.

You can browse all of the Climate Pledge Friendly products here, labeled with an icon and which certification(s) they meet. To get you on your way to shopping more sustainably, we've rounded up eight of our favorite Climate Pledge Friendly-products that will make great gifts all year long.

Amazon

Jack Wolfskin Women's North York Coat

Give the gift of warmth and style with this coat, available in a variety of colors. Sustainability is built into all Jack Wolfskin products and each item comes with a code that lets you trace back to its origins and understand how it was made.

Bluesign: Bluesign products are responsibly manufactured by using safer chemicals and fewer resources, including less energy, in production.


Amazon

Amazon All-new Echo Dot (4th Gen)

For the tech-obsessed. This Alexa smart speaker, which comes in a sleek, compact design, lets you voice control your entertainment and your smart home as well as connect with others.

Reducing CO2: Products with this certification reduce their carbon footprint year after year. Certified by the Carbon Trust.


Amazon

Burt's Bees Family Jammies Matching Holiday Organic Cotton Pajamas

Get into the holiday spirit with these fun matching PJs for the whole family. Perfect for pictures that even Fido can get in on.

Global Organic Textile Standard: This certifies each step of the organic textile supply chain against strict ecological and social standards. Each product with this certification contains 95%-100% organic content.

Amazon

Naturistick 5-Pack Lip Balm Gift Set

With 100% natural ingredients that are gentle on ultra-sensitive lips, this gift is a great gift for the whole family.

Compact by Design (Certified by Amazon): Products with this certification are packaged without excess air and water, which reduces the carbon footprint of shipping and packaging.


Amazon

Arus Women's GOTS Certified Organic Cotton Hooded Full Length Turkish Bathrobe

For those who love to lounge around, this full-length organic cotton bathrobe is the way to go. Available in five different colors, it has comfortable cuffed sleeves, a hood, pockets, and adjustable belt.

Global Organic Textile Standard: This certifies each step of the organic textile supply chain against strict ecological and social standards. Each product with this certification contains 95%-100% organic content.

Amazon

L'Occitane Extra-Gentle Vegetable Based Soap

This luxe soap, made with moisturizing shea butter and scented with verbena, is perfect for the self-care obsessed.

Compact by Design (Certified by Amazon): Products with this certification are packaged without excess air and water, which reduces the carbon footprint of shipping and packaging.

Amazon

Goodthreads Men's Sweater-Knit Fleece Long-Sleeve Bomber

For the fashionable men in your life, this fashion-forward knit bomber is an excellent choice. The sweater material keeps it cozy and warm, while the bomber jacket-cut, zip front, and rib-trim neck make it look elevated.

Recycled Claim Standard 100: Products with this certification use materials made from at least 95% recycled content.

Amazon

All-new Fire TV Stick with Alexa Voice Remote

Make it even easier to access your favorite movies and shows this holiday season. The new Fire TV Stick lets you use your voice to search across apps. Plus it controls the power and volume on your TV, so you'll never need to leave the couch! Except for snacks.

Reducing CO2: Products with this certification reduce their carbon footprint year after year. Certified by the Carbon Trust.

Even as millions of Americans celebrated the inauguration of President Joe Biden this week, the nation also mourned the fact that, for the first time in modern history, the United States did not have a peaceful transition of power.

With the violent attack on the U.S. Capitol on January 6, when pro-Trump insurrectionists attempted to stop the constitutional process of counting electoral votes and where terrorists threatened to kill lawmakers and the vice president for not keeping Trump in power, our long and proud tradition was broken. And although presidential power was ultimately transferred without incident on January 20, the presence of 20,000 National Guard troops around the Capitol reminded us of the threat that still lingers.

First Lady Jill Biden showed up today with cookies in hand for a group of National Guard troops at the Capitol to thank them for keeping her family safe. The homemade chocolate chip cookies were a small token of appreciation, but one that came from the heart of a mother whose son had served as well.

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If the past year has taught us nothing else, it's that sending love out into the world through selfless acts of kindness can have a positive ripple effect on people and communities. People all over the United States seemed to have gotten the message — 71% of those surveyed by the World Giving Index helped a stranger in need in 2020. A nonprofit survey found 90% helped others by running errands, calling, texting and sending care packages. Many people needed a boost last year in one way or another and obliging good neighbors heeded the call over and over again — and continue to make a positive impact through their actions in this new year.

Upworthy and P&G Good Everyday wanted to help keep kindness going strong, so they partnered up to create the Lead with Love Fund. The fund awards do-gooders in communities around the country with grants to help them continue on with their unique missions. Hundreds of nominations came pouring in and five winners were selected based on three criteria: the impact of action, uniqueness, and "Upworthy-ness" of their story.

Here's a look at the five winners:

Edith Ornelas, co-creator of Mariposas Collective in Memphis, Tenn.

Edith Ornelas has a deep-rooted connection to the asylum-seeking immigrant families she brings food and supplies to families in Memphis, Tenn. She was born in Jalisco, Mexico, and immigrated to the United States when she was 7 years old with her parents and sister. Edith grew up in Chicago, then moved to Memphis in 2016, where she quickly realized how few community programs existed for immigrants. Two years later, she helped create Mariposas Collective, which initially aimed to help families who had just been released from detention centers and were seeking asylum. The collective started out small but has since grown to approximately 400 volunteers.