35 years ago Joe Kals was in a motorcycle accident that changed his life; as he puts it, "on June 5th, 1982 at 2 pm, it was neither the date of my birth, but rather the day my life shifted into what felt like another dimension. Perhaps a dimension that I would not have had to experience if it was not for my motorcycle accident at the age of 21, which completely severed my spinal cord at Thoracic 12 and Lumber 1."
Joe is paraplegic, with no feeling below his hips - and he's walking 3,355 miles across America to raise awareness and fund a Cure for Paraplegia.
Justin, who has an incomplete T-12 spinal cord injury, knows Joe from an online spinal cord injury group. When we found out that Joe and his wife were living in Tampa (just two odd hours away from our Florida home base), we set up a time to meet.
We cheered Joe on at a 5k along the water - where he uses his upper body strength, his canes, and a lot of mental energy to move his body along the course. His support team included his friend Doug (below), who also has a spinal cord injury, and his wife. Joe moved slowly but methodically through the course; the chase team from the race played the theme song to Rocky over the speakers on their golf cart as he neared the finish line.
When we spoke with Joe, he shared that his mission has shifted slightly over the years. While he's still breaking barriers (he climbed the Eiffel Tower!), he understands that his journey is a personal one, and not represenative of the disabled community as a whole. For some that he has met, being in a wheelchair has opened doors and become a large part of their identity. He supports these members of the community, and wishes them well - but, for him, "a life dictated by 2 wheels in a seated position is not a way to live in a world, where the footprint of ones life, leaves its footprints in this world."
To learn more about Joe's journey and his mission, check out http://joekalsusa.com/. Joe is looking for sponsors and support as he continues to train for his two year journey across America.