By Robert Stoneback
The Danville News
DANVILLE — For the past three months, Gabriel Cordell has been traveling 30 miles a day, journeying from Burbank, Calif., to his native city of West Hempstead, N.Y.
His vehicle of choice isn’t a car, bicycle or anything involving electronics. It’s his hand-powered wheelchair.
Since starting on April 1, Cordell has traveled through California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania, with plans to travel through New Jersey and New York before his trip is scheduled to end Monday.
Six film crew members are following Cordell in an RV, to turn his journey into the documentary “Roll With Me.”
“I never let my condition ever dictate the way I live my life,” said Cordell, who became a paraplegic after a car accident in 1992. A woman ran a red light and slammed into Cordell’s Jeep, which threw him against a telephone pole, crushing part of his spinal cord.
“I’m still here, I’m alive,” said Cordell, who currently lives in Los Angeles and has spent the last 18 years working as a model and actor.
Cordell and his film crew rolled into Danville’s Dunkin Donuts on Tuesday to rest and recuperate before the last leg of their journey.
While Cordell rests in the RV overnight, with the crew always near to help him in emergencies, he has only moved forward under the power of his own arms rolling his chair forward.
“I’ve rolled every inch of every mile from the Pacific Ocean to Danville,” said Cordell.
He’s traveled down any path or road he’s legally allowed. In Pennsylvania, this means he’s been able to travel along highways, though not interstates.
Once the crew got to Pennsylvania, “the weather went bonkers on us,” Cordell said. The crew probably got enough rain in the Keystone State to make up for the earlier, dryer parts of their trip, he said with a laugh.
A more dramatic bout of weather for the crew occurred when they were traveling through Oklahoma in late May, only seven miles from the tornadoes that ripped through the central part of the state. “It went all around us except through us,” Cordell said.
Cordell is undertaking this journey “to inspire a nation, one I feel is sometimes very complacent. … I want to give them hope they can accomplish what they put their mind to.”
“Roll With Me” is being directed by Lisa France, who is one of the volunteer crew traveling with Cordell. France said she “had to do it” once she heard of Cordell’s story. She loves stories about historic firsts and as the first person to travel by wheelchair from coast to coast Cordell falls into that category.
So far, they’ve been lucky to get coverage in every state they’ve traveled through, said France, though they are still waiting for national coverage.
Sponsors for the movie include southern California’s Kinecta Federal Credit Union, the YMCA, Home Depot and West Coast Chill energy drink.
For more information or to make a contribution to the film, people can visit www.RollWithMe.org.
Cordell, whose birth name is Suheil Aghabi, was born in North Africa to Palestinian parents and is already planning a Roll For Peace across Israel after “Roll With Me” is completed.
“This journey ends, God willing, in six days,” Cordell said. “But a new one begins.”