By Dave Gragg
Vasile Stoica hopes it will take 66 days to do what no one has done before: Go from Santa Monica, Calif. to Chicago on the famed Route 66 — by wheelchair.
A challenge? Yes. But not as big as others he has already overcome. And this time, he has more motivation — helping out friends in his native Romania.
His trip, which began in Santa Monica on March 22, is to raise awareness and money for the Association for the Physically Disabled of Lugoj in Romania.
The association’s building burned down in December, taking one of his best friends with it, he said.
He hopes his Route 66 trip will help him raise $50,000, enough to help the association rebuild.
“The Romanian government doesn’t help,” he said. “They give you $15 a month. That’s enough just to buy a loaf of bread.”
“For me, I have a good life, but I always think of my friends in Romania.”
Stoica was born a paraplegic in 1970. Despite 13 leg operations, he remained unable to walk. Since he didn’t have a wheelchair, he was known as a “crawler” until he got his first wheelchair when he was almost 14 years old.
Since then, though, he’s been hard to stop.
“I was not able to go around until I was 13-14 years old,” he said. “When I did, I wanted to go all over to see everything I can.”
He wheeled his way from Romania to France in 1993, then took a three-month trek around Europe in 1995.
Three years later, he took a year-long round the world tour by wheelchair.
In 2001, he broke the Guinness World Record by going 82 miles by wheelchair in a single 24-hour span.
Stoica, who now lives in California, spent the night in Tucumcari on Wednesday after wheeling his way down Highway 104 from Las Vegas.
With a stiff tailwind sailing him along, he covered more than 100 miles in 9 1/2 hours.
“That was my best day ever,” he said.
The trip doesn’t count toward Guinness because it wasn’t around a track.
In the entire year he worked to circle the globe, Stoica said he had four flat tires.
He’s had six just since he left Santa Monica — which he blamed on desert terrain and goatheads.
And Stoica is doing it on his own. “Everybody thinks it’s easy to have a van with you,” he said. “I have to do everything myself.”
He said his wheelchair and bags weigh about as much as he does, but contains everything he needs: two T-shirts, two pairs of pants and the music he listens to on the road.
The heaviest thing is the laptop he uses to update his Web site every night, he said.
Once the trip is done, he will write his experiences down for a book he is writing about the trips he has made, he said.
On the web: