Huddled under a tall arch formed by two fire truck ladders with an American flag waving from its apex, more than 500 people gathered outside West Hempstead High School on July 8 to welcome Suheil Aghabi, a West Hempstead native who was completing a 3,100-mile, 99-day roll across the country in his wheelchair.
As police sirens wailed down the street to announce his arrival, Aghabi powered his chair down Nassau Boulevard, accompanied by a fleet of friends riding bicycles, and was greeted with applause and signs that read “Welcome Home!” and “You Did It!” as he crossed the finish line.
Three months ago, Aghabi, 42, now a resident of Santa Monica, Calif., embarked on a mission to wheel his chair from California to his hometown — which he last visited in 2002 — initially hoping to arrive in time for his high school reunion last month.
An actor who has appeared in shows such as “Dexter” and “Joan of Arcadia” and goes by the stage name Gabriel Cordell, Aghabi traveled with a film crew that documented his trip for a project called “Roll With Me: A Journey Across America.”
“I wanted to inspire a nation to not be satisfied with the status quo and show people through my actions that they can live to their potential,” Aghabi told the crowd at his homecoming reception.
He said he undertook the arduous trip so he could live up to a promise he made in high school that he would accomplish something remarkable by the time he turned 45. While he worked through waning strength in his shoulders, emotional strain while on the road and a number of delays that pushed his arrival date back 19 days, Aghabi found strength in prayer and sheer will, fulfilling his promise and making his parents proud.
“Today, I can finally say to my parents, ‘Your son made history, baby!’” Aghabi shouted, standing beside his mother, Karimeh, 70, and his father, George, 76, to whom he dedicated his successful trip.
“I thank God every day that he brought him home safe,” said his mother, who talked to her son every day by phone while he was on the road.