Sometime early on the morning on April 1, Suheil Aghabi will snuggle into his wheelchair and head east.
Aghabi, 42, an actor whose stage name is Gabriel Cordell, plans to wheel his chair from Burbank, Calif., to his hometown of West Hempstead in about 70 days. “I think that I can average about 50 miles a day,” he said, “which might sound crazy, because your arms and shoulders are not made to take that much strain.”
Aghabi rides a wheelchair because of a 1992 car accident at the intersection of Eagle Avenue and Woodfield Road in West Hempstead. He had just left his home on his way to his first professional audition in Manhattan, seeking a part in a commercial, when another driver ran a red light and slammed into his Jeep.
He recalls waking up lying in the street, clutching his steering wheel.
He knew right away that he was paralyzed, he said, because he could not feel his legs.
Only months later he was back to work, pursing acting jobs in a wheelchair. He said that before long, casting executives thought of him when a part called for a man in a wheelchair.
He has been training for his trip by logging miles on the roads and at a track near a high school in suburban Los Angeles.
“There’s nothing you can really do that will prepare you,” he says. “You just have to do it.”
Why is he attempting the arduous trip? He said that he wants to do something that has never been done before, and he also wants to be a “positive role model and inspiration” to others.
Aghabi says that his major pre-trip challenge is not preparing for the ordeal’s physical demands, but raising money. He needs to raise $9,000 so that he can rent a recreational vehicle that would accompany him on the trip, and pay for its expenses. A support crew would be able to travel with him, and the vehicle would provide him a safe place to sleep each night.
“It relieves me of paying for a hotel for five people for 70 nights,” he says.
He will host a fundraiser in California on March 15, but he is looking for help from the people of his hometown as well. Locals can donate by going to his website, www.rollwithme.org.