CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. – Toran Gaal is tired, but he's also pumped.
Having wheeled his way across the country in a handcycle, the double-amputee Marine veteran is now in striking distance of his goal. Soon, he will roll into Arlington National Cemetery, the end of one remarkable journey and the start, he hopes, of another.
"The only limits in life," Gaal said, "are the ones we set on ourselves."
The 28-year-old Gaal is preparing, once his ride is done, to launch himself as a full-time motivational speaker. But he's earned every aphorism. The ride that started June 1 in downtown San Diego and that concludes Aug. 2 at Arlington's Tomb of the Unknown Soldier will have taken him some 3,800 miles and through an internal terrain few can fathom.
"Physically, I think I was prepared as much as I could be," Gaal said, "but I definitely am at a fatigued point. … Every day is tough now."
The day before the interview in Charlottesville, Gaal and his teammate, Brian Riley, had been 81 miles away, in Lexington, Va. There, Gaal had spoken to the earnest cadets of the Virginia Military Institute. A little after 1 a.m., his standard rousing time during much of the cross-country crucible, Gaal had hit the road.
Riley, a fellow Marine veteran and single amputee, drove the support vehicle festooned with signs. Of course, there was the Marine Corps' globe and anchor. A sign promoted Gaal's website and Twitter handle, #RideToranRide.
But while he cranked himself along on his 22-pound Top End handcycle, Gaal was mostly alone with his thoughts.
"Just life," Gaal said, when asked what he thought about while riding. "How can I grow? How can I use this experience to benefit?" Perseverance, Gaal tells himself. Strength.
Born in an Indian orphanage, adopted by an American parent and in time raised by his adoptive grandparents, Gaal was 6 feet, 3 inches tall when he was a recruited basketball player coming out of a California high school in 2005.
He attended the University of Dayton for two years, before leaving college to enlist in the Marine Corps. He deployed to Iraq as an infantryman, then to Afghanistan and then he returned to Afghanistan's Helmand Province.
Early on the morning of June 26, 2011, an improvised explosive device blew off Gaal's left leg, shredded his right leg and crushed some of his brain. Parts of his hip and pelvis are gone; so are some of his memories. To date, he's undergone 55 surgeries.
Gaal's injuries are not unique. Through September 2014, the Congressional Research Service counted 1,573 wounded veterans of Iraq or Afghanistan as having undergone a limb amputation.
Gaal met Riley, who lost his left leg to machine-gun fire in Afghanistan in 2011, while on the mend in San Diego. Together, they hatched the plan for a cross-country ride that would call attention to adaptive sports and raise money for the Semper Fi Fund, which assists family members of wounded Marines.
Gaal's wife, Lisa Graves-Gaal, said about $20,000 has been raised or committed so far. The goal is $40,000.