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Preparing to Roll Across America in a Wheelchair

Decades after he was paralyzed in a crash in New York, Suheil Aghabi plans to come home by rolling 3,300 miles cross country.

Part 2 in a series.

“There's nothing you can really do that will prepare you,” Suheil Aghabi says of the 3,300 mile trip he will soon embark on in his wheelchair. “All I can do is prepare myself as best as can …  and just do it.”

Aghabi, 42, (also known as Gabriel Cordell) is planning to roll cross-country from Burbank, where he currently resides, to his hometown West Hempstead, NY, where he was involved in a car accident 20 years ago that left him paralyzed.  The 1988 West Hempstead High School graduate will depart on April 1 and expects to complete the trip in 70 days.

“I think I can average 50 miles a day, which is crazy because your arms and shoulders aren't meant for that much strain,” he recently told Patch.

Aghabi tried swimming and weightlifting, but eventually realized the best way to train for the journey, which will include inclines of 8,000 ft., was to hit the road and roll as much as he could. He’s been training on-and-off for six months, logging miles on the road and on the clay track at a nearby high school.

“I have arthritis, so I’m constantly in pain,” he says.

When people ask Aghabi what spurred him to embark on this challenge, he doesn’t have a simple answer.

He wants to challenge himself, to do something that hasn’t been done before and to make his parents proud, but more importantly, his goal is to be a postive role model and inspiration to others.

Recalling the young patients he met at NYU’s Rusk Institute as he was undergoing rehab months after Aghabi says, “I never forgot those kids … and what they had to go through at such a young age. I knew my purpose in life would have to revolve around kids with disabilities, giving them a sense of hope and making them see that if you put your mind to it, you can accomplish whatever you want."

Aghabi also hopes this message of the power of the mind will also resonate with people struggling to overcome addictions and conquer other inner demons.

“Being paraplegic is nothing compared to the daily struggle to be clean and sober,” says the recovering cocaine addict. “My addiction is so much more disabling than my paralysis.”

Inspiring Aghabi is Michael King, who completed a four-month, 5,605-mile journey from Fairbanks, AK, to Washington, DC, in 1985 in his wheelchair. Aghabi recently had a chance to speak with King, who answered many questions for him.

“It put me at ease that this person actually did it,” he adds.

The trip is not without its risks. “I could injure my shoulders or even be hit by a car,” Aghabi says, but his biggest worry right now is raising enough money to pay for the equipment and supplies needed for the journey. Although Sunrise Medical donated a brand new custom-built wheelchair, Aghabi still desperately needs to raise $9,000 to rent an RV and pay for the vehicle’s fuel. The RV would allow Aghabi’s small support staff and documentary crew to travel alongside him. It would also provide a place for him and his entourage of about five people to sleep and prepare affordable meals throughout the trip.

“The RV relieves me from having to find [and pay for] 70 nights of hotels and dining for at least five people,” he explains.

Aghabi is planning a fundraiser on March 15 in California, but anyone who wishes to donate can do so by clicking here or visiting his Web site rollwithme.org.

“I always knew I was going to do something in life that was extraordinary,” he says.  “Being in a wheelchair was not going to be the thing that set me apart …  but I knew that it would be the vehicle I was going to use.”

Read Part I of this series: Rolling Across America in Wheelchair.

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