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Photos: Students carry fellow Hokie to Cascades Falls

More than a dozen Hokies helped carry paraplegic and first-year master’s student Justin Graves to the top of the Cascade Falls in Giles County, Va., by make-shift stretcher and by back.

On a warm Saturday morning in December, a group of Virginia Tech students gathered to hike the famed Cascades Falls trail in nearby Giles County, Va. It is a Hokie tradition, completed by thousands of students, year in and year out, for decades. This trip, however, was like no other before it for the Hokie Nation.

Justin Graves of Fredericksburg, Va., had never seen the falls in person. A 2012 graduate of sociology and now first-year masters in the Department of Educational Leadership & Policy Studies, part of the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, Graves is a paraplegic and has been reliant on a wheelchair since age 3. “I figured it’s just something that would be on my Bucket List, never to really ever come off of it. I’ve seen pictures, and that was good enough for me,” he said.

Graves’ fellow Hokies would not let that happen. In the spirit of the Virginia Tech motto, Ut Prosim (That I May Serve), Graves’ longtime friend, Scinju Gadamsetty of Fairfax, Va., and a senior in the Department of Engineering Science and Mechanics, offered to help carry Graves from the start of the Cascades trail to the bottom of the falls. The trek is two-miles, one way, up trails not wheelchair friendly.

More than a dozen Hokies joined in the quest taking turns carrying Graves by a makeshift stretcher that Graves could sit upon, or on their backs. To ensure that Graves experienced the full extent of the hike, the student group opted to take him along a more difficult, steep climb.

“The hike went great,” Graves wrote the next day on his personal blog. “I was so proud, as I got to enjoy the beautiful scenery of this 2 mile (one-way) hike, that I had friends that were willing to not only take a TON of time out of their day … but to give me their bodies and energy to get me to the top of a mountain. How much more ‘Ut Prosim’ can you get then carrying a man to the top of a mountain? I am so thankful, grateful, and honored to be friends with some of the best Hokies in the world.”

Gadamsetty, a member of the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets, worked with Graves for months to plan the hike. “The hike up was the hardest part, so you saw the majority of the reactions,” said Gadamsetty after the trek. “The way down was pretty easy, because we took the fire road.  It went a lot faster, because we were at regular walking speed.  Everyone’s feelings were of accomplishment and pride.  We were all really happy to have made it up and back down.”

Watch video of Justin’s hike to the Cascades.

Read Justin’s blog entry on the hike and the meaning of Ut Prosim.

Photographs by Steven Mackay