Paraplegic in Wheelchair Treks from California to New York in 99 Days

Gabriel Cordell lost the use of his legs in a car crash 20 years ago but kept a promise to do something extraordinary

By Greg Cergol
|  Tuesday, Jul 9, 2013  |  Updated 6:54 AM EDT
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A paraplegic from Long Island is making a 3,100 mile cross-country journey in his wheelchair. Greg Cergol reports.

NBC 4 New York

A paraplegic from Long Island is making a 3,100 mile cross-country journey in his wheelchair. Greg Cergol reports.

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A New York paraplegic man who lost the use of his legs after a car crash 20 years ago has completed a cross-country journey in his wheelchair.

Gabriel Cordell, 42, ended his 99-day odyssey Monday night at his alma mater, West Hempstead High School, on Long Island.

The actor started the journey last April at the Pacific Ocean in California. He and a team of six traveled more than 3,100 miles.

"He made it!" shouted hundreds of family members and supporters who gathered at the school.

Cordell used a conventional wheelchair for the entire journey, rather than a high-tech racing chair. According to his crew, he is the first to ever cross the country in such a wheelchair.

"This represents the everyday person," Cordell said, pointing at his wheelchair. "When they see me, they see themselves."

The trip was made, Cordell said, to both inspire others to be better and to test himself.

Cordell battled drug and alcohol addictions for six years, "checking out on the real world," he said.

What brought him back, Cordell said, was a promise to himself, as a teen, to do something "extraordinary" by age 45.

"I was running out of time," Cordell said.

Cordell's team stayed with him for every mile, riding bicycles alongside his wheelchair or ferrying an RV behind him.

The group is producing a documentary of the journey.

Cordell's nephew, Chris Kawas, served as his uncle's direct caregiver. Though he himself is battling drug issues, Kawas has remained sober the entire trip.

"I am not the same man as when we started," Kawas said.

Cordell's team has drawn inspiration, cheers, tears and generosity from a supportive public during the cross-country trek.

On Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn, one man moved by Cordell's effort bought lunch for the group at a local McDonald's restaurant.

"To see the country like that and to see Chris go through this, it changed my life," said crew member Chris Yanke.

During one part of the trip, Cordell's team barely escaped deadly tornadoes in Oklahoma.

The group later stopped to help a family whose home was destroyed.

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