Not many people can say that they’ve visited all seven continents, but one of the lucky few who can is this wheelchair-user named Cory Lee.
Cory, 30, was diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy at a very young age. Because of his condition, he began using a wheelchair at the age of 4. His mother, Sandy Gilbreath, raised him as a single parent.
Although taking care of a child with a disability was challenging, she ensured that Cory didn’t miss out on the fun things in life. Sandy, who worked as a teacher, took him on road trips during summer breaks throughout his childhood. The thrilling experience of exploring new places ignited Cory’s wanderlust, inspiring him to set a lifelong goal of visiting all seven continents.
Fittingly, Cory was able to do that just before the pandemic started. He and his mother traveled to Antarctica in February, just before the borders closed. It was the seventh and final continent off his list.
“We were on the last cruise to Antarctica [before borders closed],” Cory told Good Morning America. “It was surreal. There were icebergs, mountains of ice, penguins. It was everything you would imagine and more. I was moved to tears.”
He made history doing so, as he became the first-ever wheelchair user to visit all the seven continents!
According to Cory, traveling in a wheelchair requires extensive planning and research. Their Antarctica trip, for instance, had been booked two years in advance. He starts his research six to 12 months before each escapade, making sure that there are accessible transportation options and attractions in the location. He would also call up hotels or rental homes in the area to request pictures and confirm if they are truly as accessible as they claim to be.
It’s a lot of work, but it’s always the best thing to do to avoid inconveniences during his travels.
When Cory started going on adventures, there weren’t many online resources discussing accessible travel. To help other travelers with disabilities explore the world as he does, he decided to share his knowledge in the Curb Free with Cory Lee blog.
Cory has been to 37 countries, but his trips to Antarctica and Morocco are his favorites.
“I didn’t have high expectations of Morocco,” he said. “But the alleyways of Marrakesh, the snake charmers, it blew me away.
Thanks to his determination and the accessibility provided by many companies, Cory was able to go on many exciting adventures. He experienced riding a camel in the Sahara Desert, floating in the Caribbean Sea, and flying on wheelchair-accessible hot air balloons over Las Vegas, Israel, and Spain. He also went on daring escapades, including zip-lining across an alligator-infested lake in Orlando’s Gatorland using a special sling.
Cory says there are “so many companies doing amazing things,” that traveling in a wheelchair now “is completely possible.”
Aiming to promote representation of the wheelchair-using community, Cory and his mother wrote a children’s book titled, “Let’s Explore with Cor Cor.” The story is about a boy who travels around the world in his powered wheelchair.
The book was released on June 26, a date that meant a lot to Cory. It was the day the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed.
“Traveling to all seven continents wasn’t something I was sure was going to be possible,” he said. “But if you stay determined and keep a positive attitude, the opportunities are limitless.”
Though they’ve been to 37 countries, Cory and his mother plan to add more to their list once the pandemic is over.
Be updated with Cory Lee’s future adventures by following him on Instagram, and share this story to inspire others to chase their dreams no matter how impossible they may seem!