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Nearby: WH Hero Inspires Disabled Residents

Gabriel Cordell finished a 3,100 cross-country trek in his wheelchair last week.

Peri Finkelstein, Gabriel Cordell, Kevin McDermott and Christopher Costello at the home of Finkelstein's Tuesday afternoon.
Peri Finkelstein, Gabriel Cordell, Kevin McDermott and Christopher Costello at the home of Finkelstein's Tuesday afternoon.
Story by Steven Nicastro

While West Hempstead native Gabriel Cordell recently wrapped up his 3,100 mile, 99 day cross-country wheelchair journey, he’s not finished inspiring and captivating the minds of residents.

Cordell, who became the first person to travel across the country in a manual wheelchair last week, paid a visit to the West Hempstead home of Peri Finkelstein Tuesday to discuss his journey and what’s up next. “When I was 18 years old, I promised myself I was going to do something extraordinary in my life that’s going to affect people, “ said Cordell, who was paralyzed in a car accident in 1992. “Then when I got in my accident, I decided, this is the vehicle that I’m going to use.” Sitting alongside Cordell in the backyard was Finkelstein, a 13-year-old who was born with a rare form of muscular dystrophy. Peri’s mother, Lori, contacted Cordell on Facebook because she felt that Peri “has the same drive and determination in her” that Cordell does. “She defies the odds and pushes herself to accomplish what most cannot do,” Lori said. “She has purpose. She matters ... she’s my superhero and he’s a superhero.” Peri will be entering West Hempstead Middle School this fall. Like Cordell, she is very active and has made a big impact on the community. She participates in the Girl Scouts, one year selling more than 1,000 boxes of cookies, and has created toy drives for kids with special needs. Peri also takes ballet and dancing classes and even danced on CBS News' The Early Show in 2008. Peri and her family have also done the ING Miami half-marathon every year since 2009. Each year, the team gets bigger and bigger, and this year they hope to raise more than $30,000, Lori said. All funds raised by the Finkelstein's team go directly to Chai Lifeline, an international non-profit organization “which has been by the family’s side since Peri was born,” Lori said. Donations for this year's team can be made here. Sitting nearby Peri was Christopher Costello, a 21-year-old Centereach resident who was paralyzed in a car accident two years ago, and 26-year-old West Hempstead resident Kevin McDermott, who was paralyzed in a swimming pool diving accident in 2009. Both were astonished and inspired over Cordell's accomplishment. “My first reaction was, ‘that’s insane,’” Costello said. “It’s inspiring all the different things he had to do just to be able to finish.” “There was a couple of times I wanted to quit, but I kept going,” Cordell said. Like Cordell, Costello and McDermott have not let their situation stop them from living their life to the fullest. Costello and his mother Ann Pellegrino helped create a "wheelchair garden" at Bethel Hobbs Community Farm in Centereach. It was built to allow people in wheelchairs to volunteer and join others helping out at the farm. The pair have also raised thousands for the garden, which provides food for the needy. McDermott launched a computer security software company two years ago and has a new product launching soon. He said he has a full-time aide at home but has been doing “more and more on his own.” He can now walk 30 yards with a walker and has a workout regime which includes sit-ups, wall push-ups, walking, stretching and weights. Following the accident, doctors had told McDermott he had a very slim chance of just moving his legs again and have called his recovery a miracle. “I’ve had a great family and a great support system,” McDermott said. As for Cordell, you would think that after rolling himself 3,100 miles across the country he would take a break. However, he is going back to California on Friday (he's flying back, not rolling) to work on finishing his documentary "Roll With Me" and to raise the remaining funds. He’s also not done rolling just yet as he plans on doing “Roll for Peace: Israel” next July. Cordell said the best part of the experience has been meeting and inspiring people, something he hopes continue and shouldn't have much trouble doing. “What I learned is that this country is full of amazing people,” he said. To learn more about the "Roll With Me" documentary and to donate, click here.
Melanie Donus July 18, 2013 at 11:22 PM
Thank you for posting this incredibly uplifting story!

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