On an unusually warm day at the beginning of December, more than a dozen people, some of whom had never even met before, came together for one collective goal: to get Justin Graves, the “Ultimate Hokie” and a paraplegic, to the top of a two-mile hike.
What came from that afternoon was an online video that has since gone viral, with almost 11,000 views on Virginia Tech's University Relations Vimeo page. The story of Graves' trip to the top of the Cascades, a local must-see hike, has been dubbed an inspiration and a tribute to Tech's motto “Ut Prosim."
Graves, who is currently a masters student at Tech in Higher Education Administration, has been in a wheelchair almost his entire life. He can still be seen rolling backwards around campus, giving tours as a Hokie Ambassador.
Scinju Gadamsetty, a senior engineering student, may not be the star of the viral video, but he is the mastermind and muscles behind Graves' hike.
“The way I saw it, (Graves) has done so much for the university," he said. "This is one of those quintessential Virginia Tech traditions that everyone does and I thought, if I could do something little like this to help him participate in that tradition, it would be just something I could do that was really nice as a friend.”
It was Gadamsetty's idea that inspired the collective effort. Graves, who had been titled an “Ultimate Hokie” last year by a Virginia Tech news story, hadn't yet accomplished something every Tech freshman does — hiking to the top of the Cascades.
Gadamsetty, who has been friends with Graves since they both became Hokie Ambassadors three and a half years ago, said the idea came from just joking around last February.
“I was giving him crap for being the 'Ultimate Hokie' but never having done the Cascades,” Gadamsetty said. “Then like half an hour later I was like, 'Dude, if I got all my friends and you got all your friends, we could totally carry you up there.'”
Although nothing came from the idea right away, eventually, a Facebook event was created and the two gathered a group of their friends together to make it happen.
“We ended up making a stretcher using an old camo blouse, some bungee cords and some sticks,” Gadamsetty said.
With two people holding the front of the make-shift litter and two people in the back, the group made their way up the rocky and narrow path, across four bridges and eventually to the top of the scenic path at the base of the 69-foot falls.
On the way back, the group took the easier fire-trail and opted to take turns carrying Graves on their backs.
“There was a mother with her two young kids, like elementary school, and one of them is like 'Wow, what's that?' and the mom was like, 'Oh man, that guy must have really good friends.'” Gadamsetty recalled.
Since then, it seems everyone has had the same reaction, something that Gadamsetty hadn't anticipated.
“We thought we'd go up, we'd take some pictures, put them on Facebook — whatever. But it really blew up. We were all really surprised that so many people were interested in looking at it,” Gadamsetty said.
For Gadamsetty, everyone's effort to help Graves get to the top is an example of how Tech's motto doesn't always have to be a grand effort.
“(Service) goes from being something you talk about to something you just do,” Gadamsetty said. “You don't have to think about it anymore, you just do it... because that's just the kind of person you are now.”