Podcast

Episode 13 – When Friends Become Our Hands & Feet: Patrick Gray & Justin Skeesuck

Our guests this week epitomize the heart of friendship, determination and courage. Patrick Gray & Justin Skeesuck have been friends, literally, since birth, having been born in the same hospital merely 36 hours apart. When Justin was diagnosed in his early 20’s with a degenerative muscular disease, although they no longer lived in the same city, Patrick was at the ready to support and help as he could. Their mantra for their friendship centers around intentionality, and if the other person has a need, desire or dream, they are there for each other to support and facilitate it. When Justin, now wheelchair bound, voiced his desire to make a trek across Spain through the Camino de Santiago, Patrick didn’t hesitate to show up and see how they could make this dream a reality together. They share the details of this incredible journey (the inspiration for their book “I’ll Push You”) and how they look at “fear as an opportunity,” while following their hearts in friendship, instead of letting logistics get in the way.

Going Scared Push You

TRANSCRIPT

Intro: Welcome back, everyone. If you’re new to the Going Scared Podcast, we cover all things social impact, entrepreneurship and courage. We’ve had so, so, so many people share their brave stories so far on the podcast. But today’s really, really moved me. It is such a powerful story of courage.

Today’s guests Patrick Gray and Justin Skeesuck, demonstrate incredible courage in their friendship. In facing Justin’s terminal neuromuscular disease, and in looking at life through the lens of possibility instead of scarcity.

Justin has a degenerative neuromuscular disease very similar to LAS that has slowly caused him to lose all mobility from his neck down. But that didn’t stop him from wanting to hike five hundred miles across Spain on the Camino de Santiago in a wheelchair. What do you do when you want to hike the Camino Santiago in a wheelchair. You reach out and ask your best friend if he’ll do it with you. When Justin reached out to Patrick, Patrick’s first reply was “I’ll push you.”

Today’s podcast is all about what it looks like when we come together and we push one another through our dreams, through our fears, through our friendships, and through our very lives. I was deeply impacted by today’s conversation. It has stuck with me for days, and I know that you will be too. I was struck by so many things in today’s conversation.

Friends From The Day They Were Born (Literally!)

Jessica: Hey Justin and Patrick, welcome to the show.

Patrick: Thank you for having us.

Jessica: So excited to have you on. I heard about you guys from my business partner who met you at a conference, but then I was walking through the airport, I can’t remember which airport it was, about a month ago. And I saw your book!

Justin: Yeah, it’s pretty cool. I mean it’s been a journey for us that we never thought we would ever be on. We can talk more about that later.

Jessica: Yeah, so we are going to get into you guys story and there’s so many different pieces I could pull out for our listeners to hear. But I do think friendship obviously is one of the key themes in your story. I would for you to start off with what you can each answer this, what is your first memory together?

Justin: Whoa.

Jessica: Like what comes to mind? I mean we’re probably going back to the womb here.

Justin: We are.

Patrick: Yeah. it’s close. So, Justin and I were born you know, just a little over 36 hours apart, so there’s no real space in our brains where there’s memories without each other. So, finding just one–I don’t know. I would say that one of the most vivid ones for me, is just being kids playing in this field behind our church, digging holes in the dirt, making forts and…

Justin: Throwing dirt clots.

Patrick: Dirt clots, there were weeds, that in my mind, they were like eight feet tall. They were probably like a foot and a half tall. But we would press down the weeds and make little paths through the weeds, pretend we were soldiers crawling through the dirt.

Justin: Yeah, G.I. Joe.

Patrick: Yeah.

Justin: Oh yeah.

Jessica: Wow. I think we all have these memories of these childhood friendships, like I can definitely think of childhood memories similar to that, but I’m not friends with those people anymore in my memories. What has kept you guys now friends for 40 years? What do you think has enabled that friendship to stand the test of time?

Intentionality Is Key To Strong Friendships

Justin: This is Justin talking, I would say the biggest–the thing at the top of the mountain for us–is just intentionality. We’re very intentional with one another. We grew up in the same small town in eastern Oregon right on the Idaho border, so we spent a lot of time together as kids, but then as we got older, I went to San Diego for college and Patrick stayed up here in the Idaho area where we both live now. I went to San Diego for a stint for about 20 years, almost 21 years, and during that whole span–almost over half our friendship–we were apart. But we were very intentional with one another, meaning we would call each other probably every couple weeks; we would chat. If I had a Spring break, I would come up to visit. If Pat had a Spring break, he would come down to visit me, and stay with me, and that’s what we have just done. We have been very intentional with one another.

Patrick: It’s something–where we’ve in hindsight–we’ve taken the relationship we have for granted; until recently. But, really what we’ve kind of grabbed onto is that a lot of the same rules that apply to our marriages–to our wives–apply to our friendship, apply to friendship with other people, to our relationships with our kids. It’s just that intentionally pursuing time with one another. Proximity doesn’t have to be the same space, it’s just being fully present in the moments you do have.

“Proximity doesn’t have to be the same space, it’s just being fully present in the moments you do have.” – Patrick Gray

Jessica: I love that, because I think that I grew up in a community where it’s very common to move back to that community and raise your kids in that community. I’m sort of an outlier that I didn’t do that. I think a lot of people I grew up with are still friends with their childhood friends, and I love knowing that you guys actually are not proximate to one another. Yet, your intentionality is what has kept this friendship going, and I think that gives a lot of hope to people. Because I think some people can look at your friendship and think "ah well, I’m not in the same town as my childhood friend anymore, so that’s just not possible," but really, you’re saying that’s not part of the secret.

Patrick: No, we did that for 20 years, we made it happen in spite of the fact we were 1,000 miles apart. Now we’re two miles apart which is awesome. It’s definitely achievable. It takes work. But it can be done.

Jessica: It can be done. Okay, so let’s get into a little bit of your story Justin. You had been dealing with symptoms of a neuromuscular disease. Tell us about when you first discovered that you had this disease and then walk us through when you realized it was gonna mean eventually a life of immobility?

A Diagnosis That Changed Everything

Justin: I grew up most of my childhood just as a, I guess what you say a “normal” child, just doing normal things. I was very active in sports, I played tennis and soccer and Patrick even convinced me to play football one year in high school, which I think I was probably the worst football player on the team. He’s laughing at me right now, that’s what he’s doing, ‘cause he knows that for sure, and I know that for sure. Just shy of my 16th birthday, I was driving another friend of ours from our hometown to another town–it’s about 30 minutes away–to play at a basketball tournament and he ended up rolling his truck on the freeway going about 80 miles an hour.

I actually came away from the car accident just completely shaken up, just some scrapes and bruises. It was a pretty crazy thing that I went through, but that’s kind of the start of it all. What happened was about six months later I was running down the soccer field that following fall and I started noticing my left foot was flopping around, it wasn’t working the way that it normally should and so I brought it to my parents’ attention and you naturally go see a doctor and he was completely stumped. So, he was like "I think you need to go see a neurologist".

At the time, I thought that maybe the car accident I was it; I pinched a nerve on my back or did something along that line. But I had no numbness, no pain, none of that, it just was my foot wasn’t working. It’s a very long story but I ended up seeing a ton of neurologists going through a ton of testing. I did muscle biopsies, I had MRI’s, I had everything you can do. Blood tests, nerve testing, and I ended up first about four years later, three years later, I was diagnosed with ALS, Lou Gehrig’s disease. I was in my early, early 20’s at that time.

Jessica: Wow.

Justin: I was like “that doesn’t seem right.” It’s kind of surreal having a doctor sit you down on a table and say "you’ve got about four years to live" but I knew in my heart it wasn’t quite right, so we kept pushing for some sort of treatment, or some sort of name to it. It didn’t quite fit the ALS bucket, but I ended up getting diagnosed with a very rare progressive neuromuscular disease called multifocal acquired motor axonopathy. The reason why I was diagnosed with ALS or Lou Gehrig’s is because the disease I have is very, very, very similar. It’s almost identical. There are just a few outliers that are a little different. The outcome is still the same, meaning my life will be most likely cut short. Just due to complications from the disease that I have. But it gets worse over time and it was actually triggered after going through all the testing, going through everything I went through, it was triggered by that car accident. I was just genetically dispositioned to have it. My parents just happened to have the genes.

It would’ve showed symptoms later on in life, now I’m in my early 40’s so it probably would’ve shown symptoms now, or maybe in my 50’s, but it triggered it way early. So, to give your listeners context, it started in my left leg, left foot, and it’s worked its way all the way through my body. So, now I’m at a point where my arms and hands don’t work as well as they should, and I have to be cared for, for the moment, when I get up every day ‘til the moment I go to bed at night. So, that’s everything. I mean feeding, going to the bathroom, getting my clothes on, showering, everything that you use your hands for. I can’t walk anymore so I’m in a power wheelchair. So, it’s a challenge for sure.

It sounds weird but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I know it’s a little bit of an oxymoron because the disease process has opened my eyes to what life holds and that we don’t have a ton of time on this planet, and you have to make the best of it.

“The disease process has opened my eyes to what life holds and that we don’t have a ton of time on this planet; and you have to make the best of it.” – Justin Skeesuck

Jessica: Wow. In that, your attitude comes through so clearly through the book. Just thank you, thank you for sharing your story.

Choosing to Fight the Battle Together

Jessica: I’m curious Patrick, we have all walked through a suffering with a friend and I’m imagining Patrick, you don’t live close to Justin during this time of the degeneration really taking place. So, you see each other not super frequently, so what was that like for you as you would see Justin, your friend, occasionally and it just kind of started dawning on you what this was gonna mean for Justin? And then how did you determine to be a part of walking with him through suffering and joy?

Patrick: Yeah, the time we spent apart, it was difficult—I don’t want to sugar coat it by any means–when you have someone who’s dealing with this type of degeneration. There weren’t a whole lot of surprises early on–I would say the first 10 years or so–of his disease progression, because we kept in contact so much. We’d take trips together, he’d keep me apprised of different types of developments. While the disease stayed to his waist and below, it didn’t phase me a whole lot just ‘cause Justin’s positivity was so evident.

I would say, when it really became difficult, was when he was living down in San Diego, I’m up in Idaho, and he starts to lose the functions of his upper body. So now, the implications of that are huge for a number of reasons. One, Justin’s a graphic designer. So, suddenly in 2010 when he loses his hands, his ability to put food on the table is compromised significantly. His wife is having to take care of him full time now, as opposed to him being able to maneuver in a manual wheelchair. Now he’s in a power chair. He has to be fed, he has to be helped to the bathroom, all these things.

To have that happen when I’m not there, that was tough. That was really hard. So, what we would do is, I would fly down to San Diego and give his wife three or four days of rest so she could go and recharge, and I’d help Justin, and take care of the kids, and just take advantage of the time that we did have together. But seeing that progression, it was really hard. In fact, what I would say, what happened for me in 2010–it was January of 2010 when Justin lost his hands–and he called me and told me on the phone that this dysfunction wasn’t going away. That was the first time that I’d heard him scared about his disease.

Even though there was all this struggle; having transferred into a manual wheelchair, all these major life moments that were challenging, he never seemed scared. But, at that point that shook me, and he dealt with a lot of darkness in those moments, but I kind of went down my own trail of darkness, because I became very angry at God. Very angry at the situation. I felt like God had failed to answer my prayer that I had been praying for years. I prayed more fervently, but I also became more angry.

About two years later in 2012, when he up visiting in Idaho–he and his wife and kids–it was after church service where a gentleman had taken Justin aside and was asking him some questions, and the conversation was intense, in the fact that it was just very focused and there was something very serious being spoken about. So, I always joke about this, but I do what best friends do, I leaned in and eavesdropped. But what the guy asked Justin was "if you could have your hands and feet back and be ‘normal,’would you choose it?" And Justin said "no.”

Jessica: Whoa.

Patrick: So, it was in that moment that I realized I had been praying the wrong prayer. I had been fighting the wrong fight. I created a battle for myself as opposed to fighting Justin’s battle with him. I wanted a miracle–as in full restoration–but the reality was, the miracle had already happened. Because he was able to face this disease and this unknown future with grace and dignity and all he needed was hands and feet. And I had not seen that for what it was, I just needed to step in and embrace the relationship we have, and be hands and feet. Once that happened, there was a whole new landscape of intimacy, and intentionality; pursuit and adventure that opened up for us.

“I wanted a miracle–as in full restoration–but the reality was, the miracle had already happened. Because [Justin] was able to face this disease and this unknown future with grace and dignity.” – Patrick Gray

“How” We Do Something Vs. “Why” We Do It

Jessica: That is so powerful. That is so powerful. Just the power of surrender and stepping into his story with him instead of bringing your baggage. And that is what brings you guys to this insane idea by the way, completely insane, it’s insane to walk the Camino Santiago, just if you have mobility. So, you guys start tossing around this idea after seeing a show on public access about the Camino Santiago in Spain. It’s a 500-mile trek through crazy terrain. I mean, when I’m reading I’m like "okay, 500-mile trek, it’s probably paved and flat." No. It is not. Not at all.

Patrick: It is not.

Jessica: You’re tossing around this idea, and I love what you say. One of the parts I underlined in the book, it says "we revisited the idea and talked about how it might come together, but the right time just hasn’t revealed itself. Maybe there will never be a right time, just a right mindset.” So, speak to that, because I think there’s a lot of us that have these little ideas that feel insane or who knows all the different stories we tell ourselves about the ideas and dreams that we have, and you’re saying; it’s not about time, it’s about mindset. So, tell me about each of your mindset as you are committing to make this a reality.

Justin: This is Justin talking. I would say mindset is a huge, huge part of how Patrick and I not only operate individually, but how we operate together as friends. And there’s a lot of things that go into it, but the biggest thing that we’ve kind of made our mantra is that it’s not how we do something, it’s why we do something. It’s following our heart versus letting the logistics get into the way.

“It’s not how we do something, it’s why we do something..it’s following our heart versus letting the logistics get into the way..” – Justin Skeesuck

If the mindset is looking at; okay, this crazy pilgrimage, this crazy journey had never been done in a wheelchair in its like, what, almost 200-year history–1,000 something year history? You can look at it and be like "oh man, it’s gonna be hard, and oh man, I don’t want to do that because___," you know, insert fear, XYZ or excuse XYZ.

What we’ve just leaned on with one another is "you know what? Our heart is telling us to do this, and we don’t know the outcome, we don’t know how it’s gonna go, we don’t know if we’re gonna make it past the first day,” you just don’t know until you try. That’s how we kind of just jumped into this journey together and beyond, has been following our heart, following what we believe in, and letting it unfold in front of you how it’s supposed to unfold. It can be scary, but it’s also really awesome. Because we had so many people step into our path to help us, to provide encouragement; and that’s everything from financial support, to just praying through–not just prayer–through prayer, which is a huge part of it. There are so many aspects. It would be way too long to go through all them, but we’ve just learned that we follow our heart.

Jessica: That’s what struck me so much during the book. I have to say okay, this is honest truth, I’m starting to read the book and I’m immediately thinking "whoa, I can’t believe Patrick has the guts to decide to push his best friend," and I was really kind of fixated on the courage that that would take, but as I’m reading the book I’m like, "oh my gosh, Justin, who is not mobile, had the courage to ask his best friend to push him" and just that reality of surrendering your reality, and allowing someone in. I mean, it is such vulnerability. That is what I think has been one of my biggest takeaways from this book.

Patrick: What happened is; after Justin had discovered about this journey, he recorded an episode off of Rick Steve’s actually, and I was down in San Diego with my family visiting and he had recorded this episode, and wanted to show it to me, I had no idea what we were gonna sit down and watch. So, just he and I are in the living room watching this thing unfold, and at the end of this episode, this is all about Spain and various historical events, but focuses pretty heavily on the Camino. He just turned to me and says "hey, so want to go across 500 miles in northern Spain with me?" It was very nonchalant.

I didn’t really think about my answer. It wasn’t like I was processing “how” are we going to do this. Like Justin said, the “how” doesn’t really enter our brains from the standpoint of something to overcome, that will work itself out if it’s important. It was important to him, he was excited about it, so I just said "yeah, I’ll push you.” I had no idea what I was getting into, mind you.

Justin: Neither of us did.

Jessica: If we did we wouldn’t do it, that’s the beauty of ignorance.

Patrick: Probably so. To answer your question from earlier, “am I an iron man,” that kind of thing. No. I’ve always been an outdoor kind of adventure junkie. I go rock climbing, and cliff jumping, backpacking—that kind of thing–but never 500 miles, and never an iron man. No marathons. I just enjoy being outdoors and a challenge, and this definitely fit both of those criteria.

Shared Adventures Are The Best Adventures

Jessica: Okay, obviously as I’m reading your book I’m thinking; your wives are freaking heroes. Like, I want to bow down to them. What, I mean they’re like–"yeah go for it, leave me for a couple months, I don’t know if you’re actually gonna come home on the other side of it". Tell me more about the reaction of your family and friends.

Justin: For me, my wife Kirsten, we’ve always operated from the mindset, even when we first met, and we’re going on 18 years this year being married. We’ve always operated from; if we both believe in something, or one of us believes in something, then it’s a no-brainer reaction. It’s like “okay, you believe in it? Alright, we’ll figure it out.” It’s literally like that. When I first had the idea, even before I brought it up to Patrick about doing this pilgrimage, she was in the other room. I had just watched that episode that we referred to, and I called her in and I said "so, what do you think?" Her response was quick, she just said, "if you want to go do it, go do it.” It was like that. And I was like "okay.”

Maybe she was looking for an excuse to kick me out of the house for a month to get a break? I don’t know. But she’s such an amazing strong woman that she does so much for me, she cares for me, she’s my primary caregiver. She takes a role that most spouses don’t do. Patrick is the vice president of my inner circle. My wife is my president and CEO. But she’s the one who cares for me all the time and she’s like "yeah, no big deal." She wasn’t really worried about the outcome. She wasn’t worried about if I was gonna come back or not. I don’t think I was even worried about that at all. We’re like "we’re gonna go give it a shot". And she was like "okay, cool.” And your wife…

Patrick: It was more under the condition that we’d come back in.

Justin: Yes.

Patrick: For me, my wife Donna–we’ve been married for 20 years no–and she’s like Kristen, a very strong woman. We married way out of our leagues in every aspect and she’s tough as nails. I would say her response evolved over time it was never, there was never even doubt. Initially, Justin and I had been talking about doing a trip of some sort, and when this came up, we proposed it, of course, to her right away when I’m down there in San Diego. She’s like "alright, so when?" like "we don’t know." That was where we left it. It was just an "okay, do it.”

As we got closer, while it was definitely an exercise in faith for all of us, there was never a whole lot of doubt or fear that entered into the equation. It was just a mindset of "okay it’s important to you, so I’m gonna make it important to me.” That’s really how we’ve kind of operated as individuals, as well as couples is that; this was important to Justin, and we believe shared adventure is such a critical part of any successful relationship, whether it’s with your kids, your spouse, or your friends. So, why wouldn’t I want to dive into this with Justin?

“We believe shared adventure is such a critical part of any successful relationship, whether it’s with your kids, your spouse, or your friends.” – Patrick Gray

From our wives’ perspectives, why wouldn’t we want our husbands to have this experience? It’s an adventure we’re not on with them, but we’re gonna make it important to us so they know that they have 100% clearance and we have their back the entire way.

Carving Out Time For Friendship

Jessica: So, have you guys all gone on an adventure since this trip? I’m sure this entire journey has ended up being an insane adventure, because we haven’t even gotten into the fact that you ended up turning your whole journey into a documentary. But I’m curious, have you gone, or is this just taken up too much of your life recently?

Patrick: We’ve made space definitely. And when I say adventure it doesn’t have to be a 500 mile journey…

Jessica: Thank you for clarifying that.

Patrick: Yeah. But simple as just going on a weekend with friends to wine country or spending some time with just the four of us on one of our business trips, that kind of stuff. We’ve made that happen consistently.

Justin: Even before the pilgrimage.

Patrick: We spent almost a month in Europe, just the four of us, in 2001. We’ve made those things happen, and that’s just become part of our DNA. Whatever excites us, let’s try and make it happen and you go do it. One of our most enjoyable recent trips was spent in four days in Napa, Sonoma County down in California and just had a blast with our wives. That kind of stuff you have to make space for.

Jessica: So great, so true. When we couldn’t even rub two pennies together, we would just get on Priceline and put in like 50 bucks, and just go spend the night at a hotel downtown in Austin. We call that our adventure.

Justin: Yeah, but you know what, those are very important and critical parts in not only a marriage, but also friendships. That you just carve out time for one another. We can all make time for one another. There really is no excuse. If it’s important to you, at least in my opinion, there’s really no excuse. If it’s important to you and that person is important to you, then you’ll make time. And, it takes yet again, intentionality. That’s what it boils down to.

Coming Face to Face With Who You Are

Jessica: So much intention. Okay, so let’s head to Spain. I know I have my story of what I thought was like so brutal, was when you guys thought you were taking a shortcut, but it wasn’t a shortcut, and I was in pain with you guys.

Patrick: It really sucked.

Jessica: You had so many people come along beside you. I love the story of the Australian ranger who’s like, I’m just imagining his accent like "I’m gonna help you out now, mate.”

Justin: That’s a really bad Australian accent, but hey.

Jessica: It’s horrible, let’s face it I can’t do accents. Okay, so you make a wrong turn, what was y’all’s most like "oh my gosh" story? Like painful?

Patrick: Painful story, that was definitely a rough one.

Jessica: Did I name it? I named it.

Patrick: Yeah, when Justin, Ted, and I got lost, Ted was a friend of ours that was with us for the first 10 days or so, we were convinced it was a shortcut.

Justin: On the map, it said it was a shortcut.

Jessica: We always are.

Patrick: You’re always convinced, “yeah, good lessons right?” And, the amount of work we had to do to get back to a point that we had just been at two hours prior, so really not a shortcut. It was just as hard as the rest of the day. Like, we doubled the amount of work we had to do because what starts off as a nice little trail and turns into a Jeep trail so there’s ruts from people’s rigs and weeds are stuck in Justin’s wheels, bugs everywhere.

Justin: I had chiggers all over me, oh it sucked.

Patrick: It was really, really bad. And then we get to the spot, the very spot we were trying to avoid, we wind up back at.

Justin: Like 10 feet down from where we were, it’s like “oh.”

Jessica: That is insane.

Patrick: Yeah, that was one of the hardest things I’d say physically. I mean the first day the Pyrenees is rough too, you’re climbing 4,100 feet of elevation gaining over 13 miles, a 17-mile day in total. That’s a rough day in a wheelchair.

Justin: Through mud.

Patrick: Yeah. But I’d have to say though, the hardest parts weren’t physical. They were the emotional and spiritual, not turmoil, just wrestling as you do with yourself. ‘Cause any time you go an journey like this, you have a lot of time to think, you have a lot of time to process. One particular thing–I think it was hard for both of us–I don’t want to tell Justin’s story by any means, but for me we were in an area called the Meseta, which is just a long flat stretch of nothing. It’s just wheat fields. It’s pretty, but it never changes. And you get to a situation where there’s that monotonous landscape, you’re forced inward.

“The hardest parts weren’t physical. They were the emotional and spiritual, not turmoil, just wrestling as you do with yourself.” – Patrick Gray

Justin: For hours on end.

Patrick: For hours, yeah, and days on end and you come face to face with some pretty hard things, just because you’re truly alone with yourself. Even though I’m pushing Justin, we have our headphones in and we’re listening to music at this point in time and you come face to face with exactly who you are and sometimes that’s not what you want to see.

“You come face to face with exactly who you are and sometimes that’s not what you want to see.” – Patrick Gray

Jessica: Wow. And how long did the whole trip take you guys?

Justin: It took us 35 days total.

Jessica: 35 days. And a lot of that time is just in this place of silence and self-reflection I can imagine.

Justin: Yeah, it ebbed and flowed. Every single day was completely a unique challenge for us. The Camino, the stretch that we took, we started to give your listeners a geographical context, we started in southwest France, just over the French Spanish border, in a little Bask village called St. John Pia de Port. I think that’s how they say it in French, I tried to get it as close as…

Jessica: That sounded like a much better accent than my Australian one, by the way.

Justin: I’m working on it. Then you basically traverse 500 miles due west towards Santiago de Compostela, which is in the northwest corner of Spain. Inglesia, the province of Inglesia. So, you pass through like five or six provinces through Spain and it’s … yeah, it took us a while. So, we’d walk about six days, and then have a rest day, and we took one day where we took two rest days in a row just cause Pat’s legs needed it.

Jessica: That’s crazy.

Justin: Three mountain ranges and–

Patrick: –150 miles of desert–

Justin: –desert, some rivers.

Jessica: Do you have a little PTSD just thinking about it right now?

Patrick: Sometimes, yeah.

Justin: When I see a hill now, I want to curl up on a ball on the floor and start sucking my thumb.

On Pushing and Being Pushed

Jessica: Oh, I can’t imagine. So, in your book description I read the most poignant thing that you say you discovered Patrick. You say that you realized your similarity to Justin when you became both the “pusher” and the “pushed.” So, tell me a little bit more what that means to you.

Patrick: That is a loaded question Jessica, wow. There’s a lot of implications to that mentality or that statement being the pusher and the pushed. What I would point back to is we all have challenges in life. We all have difficulties we have to overcome. Justin’s disability is hard. It’s something you wouldn’t wish on anybody, and it has a host of limitations that it brings to the table.

But his willingness to invite people into that story and be vulnerable like you mentioned earlier, has allowed him to experience things he would never experience otherwise. And that’s a lesson we can all learn, and one I learned in grand form on the Camino. There were so many areas of my life that I was not letting people step in to help me where, and it might not be visible like Justin’s disability, but I’m a type A control freak to the nth degree, and I can’t tell you how much damage that did to my family. How much damage that did to my relationship with my wife and my kids over time.

Because, without meaning to, without cognitively meaning to, I made a job more important than my family. And his vulnerability, Justin’s vulnerability, allowed me to open up my own heart if you will, and invite other people into my story and start to augment me where I’m weak, so that I can experience things the way God would want me to experience them. With people at my side in community, allowing people to push me forward just as I am able to push them forward. We overcome so many things in life when we let people be a part of our journey. There’s so many things we can overcome, but if we try to live it as an island, the silo, we are in for a really long road.

“We overcome so many things in life when we let people be a part of our journey.” – Patrick Gray

That’s what that is for me, whether it’s Justin or my wife or even my kids. People are there to help you every single day. You gotta let them in.

Jessica: Gotta let them in, I love that.

Okay. Justin, in the chapter "Taking the Bull by the Horns", you write;

"Patrick and I have often found ourselves outmatched by our circumstances on this journey of the Camino, but we’ve learned that if we live in fear and never try, if we never attempt something scary or daunting, we can’t know what limits we possess. If we don’t push ourselves, the only limits we face are the ones we place on ourselves. The ones we fabricate in our minds." – Justin Skeesuck

“If You Live In Fear, You’ll Never Take Action”

Jessica: That paragraph just summed up your mindset to me throughout this entire journey. So, tell me a little bit more about how you are pushing yourself even now, in the midst of what you described earlier–you’re being cared for. Do you have a full-time caregiver living with you now? Or does your wife still do a lot of that?

Justin: My wife is still my primary caregiver.

Jessica: Okay.

Justin: And Patrick has stepped in quite frequently to help augment, especially when we travel and we speak all around the country and do that. So, Patrick is my caregiver when we’re on the road.

Jessica: So, talk to us a little bit about this whole idea of pushing ourselves.

Justin: Yeah, so … it’s something that in my life I’ve always had the yearning to want to keep growing and keep not pushing the limits as in doing something dangerous that’s going to make me in that some sort of extreme, even though the pilgrimage was probably the biggest example of me doing that, but on a day to day basis it’s not quite like that. It’s more of "okay, how can we make the best of this life?" I have the cards that I’ve been dealt, we all have cards that we’ve been dealt, we all have the challenges that we’re dealing with and they can be physical, emotional, spiritual, mental, relationship, I mean you name it.

And we all have something we’re dealing with, but throughout all of that, you can live a life of fear. You can live a life of "man I wish I could do this, or I wish I can do that—based on my circumstances,” and you can wish and dream all day long, but what it really boils down to, at least in my opinion is, taking action and following your heart. We talked about that earlier, but if you live in fear, you’ll never take action. You have to…

Jessica: It’s paralyzing.

Justin: It is, it’s very paralyzing. And what it is, is–and there’s moments–I mean Patrick and I even post our pilgrimage, you know. Patrick left his job, and now we work together, and it has its ups and downs. There’s fear that we have to deal with all the time–just between the two of us– and understanding; we were just talking about that yesterday. Where are we supposed to go, and where’s our path, and following our heart, and seeking God’s guidance in it. Our faith plays a huge part of not only how we operate individually but how we operate together as friends, in our marriage, in our relationship with our children, with our small group. We have an amazing small group, they’re our hugest champions, our biggest champions (“hugest” is not a word). Biggest champions.

Patrick: Just own it.

Justin: But you know, when you bring people into your journey like Patrick has said, and I hope that we’ve been able to at least plant that seed for others, is that when you do that you can accomplish anything. Anything–regardless of your circumstance. It really opens up your eyes to the world and what is available to us. Especially here in America. We have it so amazingly awesome compared to most parts of the world. I imagine, as you started with your adventure with Noonday, there was a lot of probably fear and trepidation and like "man how are we gonna pull this off?” I mean, I’m making some assumptions here but-

Jessica: The name of my podcast is “Going Scared,” so yes, there was a lot of that going on here.

Justin: But I look at fear as an opportunity. It’s an opportunity to see where A: how God can shine? But also, it’s an opportunity to let people augment you where you’re weak.

Jessica: I love that.

Justin: And, if you can realize-

Jessica: If you let them. If you let them.

Justin: Yeah, if you let them. And all it takes is as simple as this. If people want a prescription, I mean this is the best way I can do it. I’ll give you an example. Hey Patrick, how can you … can you please pray for me and help me get through this challenge? I am dealing with this frustration right now, can you help me get through that?

Patrick: Absolutely.

Justin: Simple as that.

Patrick: You just gotta ask.

Inviting Others Into Your Journey

Jessica: It’s asking, and it’s crazy. I talk about this a lot in a lot of my podcasts because you brought up Noonday. Yes, the journey of entrepreneurship is absolutely about going scared and overcoming fears and you really can’t be a “solo-preneuer.” That’s a term that’s out there that I think is false. You have to invite people into your journey and I’m wondering…Justin, I was actually surprised when I heard that Kristen, your wife, is a Noonday ambassador. Because I thought "wow, I mean she has got to have a lot going on." You guys have got kids and she’s caring for you and I’m wondering; did that come from that place of like action and love just like when you were talking earlier about, where she’s like "I want to do this," and you’re like "okay.”

Justin: Yeah, she was exactly that. I mean she learned about it through, I believe, a friend of hers, while I think we were in San Diego, living there. She came home and told me about this thing, like the, when people invite you into your home…

Jessica: The trunk shows, yeah.

Justin: And she’s like "not only is the product amazing, the product is stellar.” I’m not, even as a man I’m like, "wow, that’s some beautiful work". She said just the mission behind it–she just loved the mission and the message behind it. What Noonday stands for, and not only do you provide a stellar superior product, but it’s also an organization that supports people from all around the world. It’s about building relationships and supporting people and giving them the opportunity to overcome their challenges and their fears.

Jessica: That’s a great pitch Justin, thanks.

Justin: Yeah, I’ll bill you later. By the way she told me to tell you “hi.”

Jessica: Thank you.

Justin: But she’s loved Noonday and she is a huge supporter and loves to do what she can here in Idaho.

Jessica: Yes, it’s a growing market in Idaho, I have to say. So, I love that.

The Push: A Story of Friendship

Jessica: Okay, so I want to pivot a little bit because you guys have a children’s book coming out. My best friend’s daughter is adopted, she was adopted from Ethiopia, and she only has one limb, no legs and no other arm, so she’s in an electric wheelchair, and I’ve walked through so closely with her as we’re playing on the playground together, and just kind of the stares [from people] that happen, and the questions that she gets asked. I feel like this is an area where we aren’t very well equipped, and I’m thrilled about your next book. So, tell us a little bit about that children’s book.

Patrick: So, this book is one that I wrote. Actually, I wrote it right when we got back from Spain and it was one of those things that honestly feels like it was inspired and just kind of fell out of my head. When I originally wrote this story, it was with several things in mind. What it is, is it’s Justin and I’s relationship, but applied to a couple of 10 or 11-year old boys. So, Justin was running around with me as a kid, you know, what would our relationship had looked like if that wasn’t the case, if he was in a wheelchair as a kid?

So, it’s a story of two best friends, one who’s in a wheelchair and one who’s not. So, I wrote the story with our relationship in mind, really wanting to draw attention to how easy yet how impactful it is to step in and help. And a message of just love and compassion, but for kids. Really a conversation starter between kids and parents about embracing differences for what they are letting differences being an opportunity to do more together as opposed to being dividing lines.

It’s kind of written in the same vein as The Giving Tree, from where it’s a story that really is a companion reader where a parent would read it with a child.

Justin: Or a grandparent-

Patrick: Or a grandparent or an uncle, yeah. And it’s not necessarily a kid couldn’t read it by themselves by any means, but there’s a lot to it, a lot of lessons to it. So, that’s kind of the foundation. Then moving beyond that simple message that we often over-complicate, it’s not just about disability, it’s about any difference. Anything that we see separating ourselves from somebody else is an opportunity to step up to whatever that line is, step across it.

Patrick: So, all that is the story, right? I mean, step up to the lines that divide you from someone that you don’t agree with, or that you see as different. So, there’s lessons in there for kids and adults alike. But, what I love about the story so much Jessica, is not just the book as far as the literature piece, but the illustrations, because what happened is I write the story, I share it with Justin, he falls in love with it, and like "we’ve got to do something with this.” And a requirement for me, we’re gonna publish this children’s book, was that I wanted Justin to be a part of the illustration.

Now that’s to be a challenge, right? Go back in history at my wife and I’s wedding, when Donna and I were married, Justin and his wife gave us, at the time it was just Justin. Justin gave us a painting that was kind of a Calvin and Hobbes style painting, painted in ink with watercolor, of one of our childhood haunts of sledding. Once he and Kirsten were married, he gave me three more in the same style. Ink and watercolor.

Jessica: I love where this is going.

Patrick: So, that had to be the style that this book was done in, it was that or nothing. That’s how…

Justin: The line in the sand.

Patrick: That was the line in the sand for me. Justin’s like "okay, what does it look like?" Well, you can’t do line art anymore, so we had to find someone who can do that. So, we put a call out on a website where there’s a bunch of, a hub for different designers and illustrators and whatnot, and we went through 82 proposals. The 82nd one we find a young man in Colorado, he’s like 19, who can mimic Justin’s style. We gave him a test, and he nailed it.

So, we worked with him, he did the line art, and Justin was able to do the watercolor with his computer and his voice.

Jessica: Oh my gosh. Okay, so tell us the title. I want to go click like right now. So, is it available for pre-order right now?

Patrick: It’s available, it actually launched on April 3rd.

Jessica: Oh, awesome!

Patrick: Yeah, it is called The Push: A Story of Friendship.

Jessica: The Push: A Story of Friendship.

Justin: Barnes and Noble … if you go to our website, we have some extra bonuses that are available. We have a discussion guide and some other really cool things that we’ve created to help enhance the reading process with your child or grandchild. So, just go to PushInc. P-U-S-H-I-N-C dot US, there’s a books tab, just click on that, or it’s on the homepage. You can just scroll down and it’ll take you to a special website that we have. If you buy the book through Amazon or through wherever, we have some special bonuses that are available with that too.

When Patrick read me the story, I was blown away. I was like "of course," I mean there was no option. Just how he responded to me when I asked about going across 500 miles on northern Spain, it was the flip. It was "yeah, of course we’re gonna do something with this. There’s no option not to." We didn’t know what that looked like, we didn’t know if it was gonna be published, we didn’t know if we were gonna self-publish it or whatever.

We ended up getting a publishing deal with Tyndale Kids, their children’s division. They picked it up, and it came out, and they were awesome to work with, and we’re off and running. So, it’s really exciting. Really exciting to have another kind of feather in the cap, and Patrick wrote the story and I was able to illustrate it, and it came out beautiful. We’re really blessed.

Jessica: We cannot wait. Is that really how to stay in touch with you guys is through your website, or are there other ways that we can keep following along on your story?

Justin: Yeah, that’s the easiest way. PushInc.us or you can go to illpushyou.com, and you can learn about our book I’ll Push You, as well as our documentary that we, you know we took a camera crew with us and created a film, and that came out on November 3rd in theaters all around the country of last year, and now it’s available for DVD, online purchasing and whatnot, and that’s all through illpushyou.com. I-L-L-P-U-S-H-Y-O-U dot com.

You can find us on social media and all that. It’s been a crazy, crazy journey that we’ve been on. This massive faith journey that we’ve been on it and it’s had its moments where we felt like we wanted to put our heads through a wall, but we kept really focusing on where our heart is telling us where we need to go, and this is the outcome of all of that. The children’s book, the I’ll Push You book, and the film and we have some other things we’ve released and worked on as well. We’re moving and grooving.

Jessica: That’s awesome. Well, true to the nature of your friendship and who you guys are, you’re inviting all of us along on the journey and we’re so thankful for that. So, thank you so much for your time today you guys.

Justin: Oh, thank you. Thank you for having us and all that you’re doing as well. So, what an honor it is for us to spend time with you today too.

Patrick: Yeah, Jessica it’s been a blessing for sure, thank you so much.

Jessica: Thank you.

Who Are You Pushing? Who Is Pushing You?

Jessica: I was stuck by so many things, and also, I was struck by so many things in today’s conversation and the one obvious one is simply their friendship.

I think it would be easy to compare and think, “why don’t I still keep in touch with my best friend from when I was a kindergartner?” I moved a million times and there’s no way I even have a friend like that. But I think it’s easy to assume that community is happening around us and that loneliness only happens to us, but it’s not true. You do not have to be a victim to loneliness–loneliness doesn’t happen only to you.

Patrick and Justin talk so much about the secret sauce of their friendship. It was “intentionality”–go be the kind of friend that you want to have. That is what creates the kind of friendship that Patrick and Justin have. I know I wanted to be a better friend after today’s conversation.

So, think about how are you being intentional in your friendships right now. Who are you pushing and who are you being pushed by?

Maybe it is time to buy a plane ticket and fly across the country to hang out with your old college roommate. Maybe that friend that doesn’t work with you anymore could really actually use a lunch date. Being intentional requires courage, because we have to be willing to show our need, and our want for connection, and relationship, right? Sometimes that courage is even harder than the courage required to start a business, or even do something crazy like hike 500 miles.

I hope today that you can think about that person that you want to push in your own life. Thanks again for joining me today, and I’ll see you on next week’s episode.