As he rolled along on his daily 50-mile quota on a late June morning, not far out of Columbus, Ohio, West Hempstead native Suheil Aghabi greeted a couple from Linden, Tenn., who spotted his wheelchair as they drove past.
When he told them that he had only 550 miles left in his 3,100-mile journey across America, Aghabi received hearty praise, to which he responded with a humble, “Bless you.”
“This trip could have been 10 days shorter,” Aghabi said later. “But you’re damn straight I’m going to take the time to say thank you to the people who stop and support me.”
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 in 70 days, initially hoping to arrive in time for his class reunion at West Hempstead High School last month. Despite several delays that pushed his arrival date back 19 days — taking pictures with locals, working through increasing strain in his arms or navigating with his crew around monster tornadoes — Aghabi has wheeled ever closer to the East Coast, and this week had 2,500 behind him and was taking on the Appalachian Mountains.
Aghabi — an actor who has appeared in shows such as “Dexter” and “Joan of Arcadia” and goes by the stage name Gabriel Cordell — is traveling with a film crew that is documenting his trip.
Though he has faced no shortage of challenges, he said that he cherishes the moments he spends with his crew and newfound fans along the way. “These little towns that we roll through are gems, filled with good, wholesome Americans,” he said. “These people didn’t know us from a hole in the wall, yet they opened up to us and shared their most intimate stories with us. That’s what the U.S. is all about.”
Aghabi recalled an encounter with a man named Shane, an Army veteran who served in Fallujah, Iraq, and who commended Aghabi and his crew for taking on such a monumental task.