<strong>LOGAN</strong><strong>—</strong>A journey begins with a destination, purpose, and motivation, often in search of bettering oneself or others. Tuesday night Ben Smith rolled into Logan on his longboard having crossed Utah to raise funds for his friend Gates Hunsaker, who was paralyzed from the chest down in a snowboarding accident in April 2011.
Smith’s journey began on June 11 just outside of Kanab at the Utah-Arizona border, and ended at the Utah-Idaho border Thursday night – in all a 440-mile trip.
Smith said the purpose of the trip was to raise enough money to help Hunsaker – whom he didn’t know until after the accident – become independent by outfitting his car with hand controls. He also wants to help pay for some of Hunsaker’s physical therapy.
“I’m doing this because I love to longboard, but I’m mostly doing it because I want to do something for my friend,” Smith said on his blog. “I just want to do something good for Gates, and you can help me do it.”
The idea of longboarding across Utah was suggested by his older brother, who is currently serving mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Dallas. Smith’s brother is also friends with Hunsaker.
“Longboarding over 400 miles will be tough but dealing with spinal cord injuries is an even more challenging road,” Smith said.
Smith and his dad, Rick, have enjoyed some cooler days and made many friends. They have seen support in the form of honks and waves, people pulling over and donating, and in being fed meals.
It hasn’t been an easy trip, in the first two days Smith traveled 80 miles and climbed a combined total 2600 feet, which was a slow and laborious task.
“The hardest part has been the wind, heat, and going uphill,” Smith said.
By June 14 he was in Yuba Lake State Park and by June 18 he had reached Salt Lake City. His only break was on Sunday as he enjoyed a day of rest with his family. By June 20 he was in Brigham City, determined to finish his journey by Tuesday night.
In Logan, Smith was met by Fred and Sharon Hunsaker, Gates’ Grandparents.
“On behalf of the Hunsakers, we’re very appreciative of what you’ve done,” Fred said. “We’re appreciative of everyone who has helped along the way. Ben, you’re keeping Gates’ hopes and dreams alive.”
Smith was followed in a donated RV by his father, who not only was there for support, but to repair any of the four longboards used on the journey.
“As a father it’s been an emotional roller coaster,” Rick said. “Feeling so proud of him and yet seeing him carry on while tired, and worried about his safety, it’s like fatherhood all rolled into one.”
“ I’ve almost worn through two pairs of shoes, and a few sets of bearings,” Smith said. “When I get home I’m going to sleep, and then go over to my friends and go longboarding.
“It’s been humbling to see so many people help out because they know someone who needs help like this, I’m very lucky,” Smith said. “The thing that I’ve learned is that I can do it. It’s been hard. When my leg doesn’t want to push anymore, I remember why I’m here. I can do it.”
For more information about Smith’s ride or to make a donation you can find his blog at <a href=”http://longboardutahforgates.com/” target=”_blank”>LongboardUtahForGates.com</a>.