Roll Across America – Interview with Gabriel Cordell

Roll Across America – Interview with Gabriel Cordell

A few months ago my town made the news for something uniquely wonderful.  Yes, a good piece of news for a change.  A man whose life was forever altered by a tragic accident came back home in a triumphant mission.  Gabriel Cordell (real name- Suheil Aghabi) rode across country in a standard wheelchair.  Starting out in California, it took 99 days and 3100 miles to roll into his hometown of West Hempstead, New York.

Here was a perfect candidate to highlight on my blog, showing us there is no limit in life.  We are capable of far more than we think, with or without real or self-imposed limitations.  An actor by trade, an inspiration by essence.

What personal qualities have helped you carry on and move in a positive direction?

Ever since I was young I was instilled with a very hard work ethic.  I started working when I was 13 years old.  That showed me what it takes to be successful if you want to achieve something and how much hard work it is.  I think I’m stubborn.  In some ways it’s good to be stubborn and in some ways it’s not.  In relationships it’s not but for personal goals it’s absolutely a positive to be stubborn because you will be relentless until you achieve what you’re after.  Also tunnel vision- when I put my mind to something that means so much to me and that is difficult to achieve I put all my focus on it.   I put on my blinders and I just move ahead and I don’t take no for an answer.

Did you go through a period of self- pity?  If so, what helped lift you out?

I’ve never had self-pity because of my accident.  I’ve had self pity when I decided to check out of reality and go into a lifestyle that had nothing to do with me being in a wheelchair but rather with me being unhappy with where I was going.

My rehabilitation was in the Rusk Institute at NYU.  I was fortunate enough and stubborn when I just turned 22 and I was put in the adult unit in a room with two men on life support.  This was where  I was supposed to rehabilitate not just physically but mentally and emotionally?  I said, “I will not allow you to put me in this environment.”  I got transferred to pediatrics and from day one there I realized how fortunate I was to have had 22 years of what they call ‘normal life’, and there was no pity.  How could I pity myself when those babies and children would never have the chance to know what normal is and I had 22 years.  That played a big part in why I didn’t feel bad for myself.  Those children gave me so much strength and showed me not to pity myself.

Was there a specific moment thought or epiphany that helped guide you to a better place mentally and psychologically?

There wasn’t really one moment.  I never allowed myself to think I’m less of a person for being in a wheelchair.  I never let my physical status dictate the way I lived my life.  It never crossed my mind that being in a wheelchair is bigger than me as a person.  When I was laying on the ground after I opened my eyes, I just knew I was paralyzed.  I remember the thought that came to me as I lay there was “this is the vehicle that’s going to allow me to do something extraordinary with my life.”

What are your day-to-day coping skills?

I lived a life of abundance in a negative way.  I let my parents down for a long time.  They’re not young and I don’t know how much longer I have with them. I thank God that nothing happened to my parents when I was doing my drugs.  I don’t know how I would’ve rebounded from that, them seeing me last at my lowest point in my life.  They keep me in check.  But I struggle every day in trying to live the ‘right’ way; trying not to embellish on my demons.  It’s an internal struggle.  I have an addictive personality.  I just know if I get back into it I’m going to die.  I’m happy I didn’t die back then from my accident.  There’s so much I want to do.  I’ve been high on so many different kinds of drugs;  but the high that I had rolling across America every day, meeting new people and affecting and stirring something up in them and motivating and inspiring them was the greatest high, the greatest feeling  I ever had by a long shot.  That is where I’m most comfortable and where I’m happiest.  This is what I know I need to do because I’m good at reaching out and connecting with people, and that is what I think about every day.  I created a platform for myself that contains credibility, a great work ethic, determination, will and desire and I proved it.  Nobody can ever question if I have the ambition or the focus to accomplish whatever I want.  If I don’t take advantage of that, I’m an idiot.

What advice can you offer people going through difficult situations?

You have to be O.K. with it.  You have to understand it’s not anything more than an unfortunate circumstance, unless you created it yourself.   You have to be able to work towards something; something that is meaningful, that makes your heart beat a little bit faster, makes your palms sweat, that excites you.  You need that in your life.  If you don’t have that it’s just a matter of time before you fall into a rut.  Focus on something that you love.  You have to be O.K. with yourself.  I’m a 42 year old man.  I’m dating a woman.  She gets upset when I don’t want to sleep over at her house.  I have no control over my bladder.  That’s my reality.  I have to be O.K with saying that.  Once you’re O.K.  with the hand you’ve been dealt, as bad as it is, then everything is fair game.  Then you can do anything you want.  But if you’re not O.K with yourself, then you’re going to have problems.   You end up closing doors, limiting yourself and alienating people.

What is your purpose in doing these ‘rolls’ and where is your next one?

My purpose is to affect people in a way that makes them question where they’re at in their life; to stir something up in people.   There are so many people who have the desire to do something big.  I think the uncertainty of it is why most don’t shoot for it.  They’re afraid.

My next roll will be from northern Israel to southern Israel and ending up in the West Bank in the name of peace between the Israelis and Palestinians.


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