Ryan Chalmers (Parker Feierbach)
On Saturday, Ryan Chalmers, completing a 71-day, 3,320-mile cross-country journey covering 16 states in a wheelchair, is set to roll into New York City's Central Park.
The Paralympian braved the heat of California, the snows of Utah and a lot of steep climbs on his trip from Los Angeles to New York—dubbed Push Across America. He's been doing it to raise both awareness for people with disabilities and money for Stay-Focused, a nonprofit that helps kids with disabilities learn to scuba dive.
“We have a goal to raise awareness for people with disabilities and show people what adapted sports are all about,” Chalmers told Yahoo News on the phone from Philadelphia, where he's resting before making his final push.
The 24-year-old has been wheelchair racing since the age of 8 and made the Paralympics team for the London Games in 2012. To cap the end of the cross-country ride, he will be met in Central Park by Commissioner Victor Calise of the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities, who will read a letter from Mayor Michael Bloomberg commemorating Chalmers' achievement.
Chalmers, who was born with spina bifida and does not have complete use of his legs, endured hours of sitting in his compact racing wheelchair. His hands, first bloodied and blistered, now look “deformed,” he said, from all the callouses.
He told Yahoo News the hardest day was the fifth, in Death Valley, Calif. It started with a seven-mile climb in 95-degree heat, included an additional 13-mile incline and concluded with him logging 65 miles. Did he want to quit?
“I never thought about quitting,” he said.
“The people we met along the way makes it possible," he added. "No matter what you’re going through that day—it was cold, it was long—you have somebody at the end, a kid with a disability sitting at the finish line waiting for you. Those moments make all the difficult parts just disappear.”
Chalmers was supported by a team of six who kept him fed and hydrated and fixed his wheelchair, which went through 13 tires. A welder also had to repair a steering stem, which broke as he was speeding down a hill.
Ryan Chalmers in Virginia at the 3,000 mile mark (Parker Feierbach)
Chalmers keeps everything in perspective.
“I just had to remember the reason I started the journey in the first place," he said. "It’s about finding your reason. That helped me so much. It put into perspective all the difficult times."
- Ryan Chalmers