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Paralympian attempts cross-country wheelchair trip

Friday - 6/7/2013, 6:18am  ET

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Ryan Chalmers pushes over Interstate 295 in Washington, D.C. (Twitter/@PushUSA)

WASHINGTON - You've heard of people biking or walking across the country. But what about someone going across the country in a wheelchair?

Ryan Chalmers, 24, a bronze medalist at the 2012 Paralympics in London, is in his eighth week of a cross-country trip to raise money for a program he believes in: Stay-Focused.

The program teaches teens with disabilities to scuba dive, because water is a great equalizer. Teens who use wheelchairs on land are free in the water. Along with the experience of being able to move in water in ways they can't on land, the program focuses on developing leadership skills.

Chalmers found the experience to be a game-changer himself, becoming a diving master through the program, so he made up his mind to cross the country to raise money and awareness for it.

On Thursday, when Chalmers visited the WTOP newsroom, he'd already logged more than 3,000 miles on the road and traveled 51 miles from Purcellville, Va., to the District of Columbia.

While he did run into the usual Washington-area traffic gridlock, he also had a pleasant experience.

"We had people cheering along the side of the roads and a lot of support coming into the D.C. Area," he said.

His toughest day in the 8-week trip so far was in Death Valley.

"It was, total, 20 miles of climbing that day and I averaged 3-4 miles an hour," said Chalmers. "What was important to me was to just stop and remember why I started the journey in the first place."

Temperatures even topped 95 degrees. At one point Chalmers had to stop and put a cold towel over his head to regulate his temperature. Then he pushed on.

Keep up with Ryan Chalmers' cross-country trip on his website.

WTOP's Kate Ryan contributed to this report. Follow @KateRyanWTOP and @WTOP on Twitter.

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