Paralympian makes 3,000-mile trip of hope and inspiration

(CBS News) For the past 70 days, Paralympian Ryan Chalmers has pushed himself more than 3,000 miles across America.

"When I'm pushing up the hill, I'm always looking down. I'm always pushing down. You know, you can't really look up otherwise. You know, you may start rolling backwards, you never know. And so, you know, it's that moment where you get to the top, and you see, you know, for miles, up the mountain and that's when it clicks. ... That's when everything becomes so surreal," he said.

He began his journey in Los Angeles, covering an average of 60 miles a day. CBS News correspondent Elaine Quijano caught up with him during a scheduled rest stop in New Jersey.

When asked what message he hopes to send with his trip, he said, "it really is just never give up, stay focused. Find your reason. Find your passion. You know, set goals for yourself and really just go out an achieve."

Chalmer's goal, since age 8, was to become a Paralympic athlete. He was born with spina bifida and doesn't have complete use of his legs.

But with his family's support, the 24-year-old propelled himself toward his dream. Last year in London, he represented himself at the Paralympics.

His "Push across America" is his goal now. He and his team want to raise awareness about what disabled people can do. But he also hopes to raise money for a group that teaches disabled teens how to scuba dive in the Cayman Islands. It's called "Stay Focused," and Chalmers first took part when he was 15.

"I remember jumping in the water and I remember the moment where ... you just feel free. The thing about scuba diving is ... when you're under the water, you can look over your to your left, no matter what disability you have, you're doing the exact same thing that everybody else is doing. And so that's really something that just changed my life."

That memory helped Chalmers press on, during what he says was the toughest part of his trip - Death Valley.

"That was, for me, one of the defining moments of the push where I just had to stop and remember the reason why I started the journey in the first place."

Along his route, he's found encouragement, including from his coach and teammates at his alma mater, the University of Illinois.

"Each day has brought something special for me," he said. "It's just been a journey as a whole that has been so incredible and something that I'm gonna remember forever."

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