Photo: "I'll Push You." Source: Today.com
"I'll Push You" is a film that follows two friends who make the decision to take a journey lasting 500 miles. For any set of friends, this would be intimidate, but these two friends aren't a normal pair. Justin, one of the friends in the film, was diagnosed with a neuromuscular illness. The entire film tracks their amazing journey, and provides a truly inspiring story line that fully embodies the mantra of pushing beyond life's barriers.
For Justin, design work, such as screen printing and other graphic design disciplines, were a way of life. This field was one that Justin held true to his heart, as he was able to work at some of the greatest design studios across the United States. Working with his hands, Justin created thoughtful pieces each day, and continued to do so for years while displaying his inspired work through various platforms. While his hands served as the very catalyst for his art work, one day he began to notice a change.
This change began with random muscle spasms and cramps, and eventually had become more prominent in his legs. After losing function in his leg muscles, Justin soon realized that the impact of his condition would make its way beyond his hips and eventually to his hands. By this stage in his life, Justin was well aware that he had what is classified as a progressive neuromuscular disease that would slowly steal his ability to properly regulate his own movements.
As is the case for many other patients in Justin’s position, he soon lost the ability to feed himself, dress himself, and go to the bathroom. This led to the need for assistance from his wife and kids every time he had to eat or use the bathroom. There came a point in Justin’s life where the condition began to take its psychological toll on him. The inability to mundane tasks, such as eating by himself, almost got to be too much, as he neared a very dark place in his mind. While negative thoughts permeated the inside of his mind, Justin saw something that would forever change his life.
While watching television one day, he saw a travel show that displayed a story on trail in Spain known as the “Camino” (or path/walkway in Spanish). The trail, also referred to as the Camino de Santiago, is a 500 mile trek in the northwestern part of Spain. Justin thought to himself of how crazy it would be to complete the trail in his wheelchair. This thought then spurred a new idea. What if he could do it with his lifelong friend, Patrick?
Thus prompted the entire idea of the journey. The two did not quite know what they were getting into, however a few years after the initial idea, they set out on the historic trail. Through the duration of the trip, with the assistance of others whose supported the effort, Justin and Patrick were able to document the entirety of the trip, through all of the ups and downs they encountered together. This subsequently turned into an inspirational and thought-provoking film by the name of “I’ll Push You.” The trip itself lasted a total of 35 days, “from the southwest of France to the Cathedral in Santiago; over several mountain ranges like the Pyrenees, through rivers, and across the vast ‘desert of Spain’ called the Meseta,” as seen on their site, illpushyou.com.
Following the end of the journey, the two best friends used the adventure to tell a truly inspiring story. On their site, they state that, “Their goal with this film is for others to walk away recognizing each life is not defined by its limitations, but is defined by what is accomplished in spite of those limitations.” They have been able to display their story through the release of their film in 2016, a book with the same title, and talks given around the nation. In addition to these efforts to spread their amazing story, Justin and Patrick founded a company by the name of Push Inc., where their objective has been to “help organizations and individuals realize they can achieve more, together.”
What exactly is a progressive neuromuscular disease?
The term “neuromuscular disease” is a rather general term that describes a variety of diseases that ultimately impact one’s ability to control their muscles. In addition to this, the beginning of the phrase, progressive, describes the gradual process of the muscle deterioration within the affected patient. Looking further into these progressive neuromuscular diseases, they are primarily divided into two types, of which include rapidly progressive disorders and slowly progressive disorders, which describes the actual rate at which the diseases develop over time. Examples of rapidly progressive disorders include amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and Duchenne muscular dystrophy. Slowly progressive disorders (also referred to as variable progressive disorders) on the other hand, include a much more gradual progression and is said to a have a more milf life expectancy relative to that of the rapidly progressive disorders. Examples of slowly progressive disorders include limb girdle, Facioscapulohumeral and Myotonic muscular dystrophy.
Some of the most common symptoms associated with these conditions will include problems breathing, inability to swallow properly, as well as a loss of mobility (eventually requiring the help of a wheelchair). In order to diagnose such a condition, doctors will often order a variety of tests such as enzyme tests, electromyography, genetic testing, heart-monitoring tests, lung monitoring tests, as well as muscle biopsies. There is at present no cure for these types of diseases, however patients are able to utilize a number of different medications that help to slow the symptoms that come with such a diagnosis.
The future for patients like Justin
One of the most crucial actions that patients like Justin can take include raising awareness for the harsh symptoms associated with his condition. Many people, after all, do not completely understand the many intricacies that are behind a neuromuscular disease, as well as what its diagnosis implies. Justin, along with Patrick did well in this regard, as one of their objectives upon the completion of the 500 mile journey was to raise awareness for Justin’s condition and others suffering from the same condition.
In raising awareness for the disease, the condition is able to receive the necessary funding towards various research efforts across the globe. This can be huge for the neuromuscular population as a whole, as it increases the likelihood that a cure is found. Even more beneficial in the short term can be the introduction of new and innovative treatment options that help to slow the progress of the disease. Doing so can ultimately help to provide a much more improved quality of life for patients suffering from such a difficult diagnosis.