Hector Manley, a Double Amputee, Kayaking the Mississippi River for a Cause

Hector ManleySome college seniors dream of back packing in Europe after they finish school. Recent University of Tampa grad Hector Manley's goal is to paddle all 2,500 miles of the Mississippi River by the end of the summer. He's taken up the challenge to raise money for two organizations that are close to his heart, Wounded Warriors and the Wheelchair Foundation.

"The Wheelchair Foundation does great work around the world," Manley tells Shine. "In the next month they will be delivering their one millionth wheelchair." He has a special connection to Wounded Warriors. "My two best friends are in the service right now. I would want to be there with them, so this is how I show my support."

Manley was born in a mountain village in El Salvador so tiny the dirt roads had no names. He says there were times his family went without food, and he didn't get his first pair of shoes until he was seven. As a little boy, he loved playing soccer and exploring the local garbage dump to find cast offs his family could use. In 2001, a 7.1 magnitude earthquake hit and he was toppled into a burning pile of garbage. Although workers eventually rescued him, he had burns over 70% of his body. His local clinic had been destroyed by the quake, and by the time he made it to the children's hospital in San Salvador, doctors had to amputate both of his legs.

Recovering in the hospital, he met Don and Karen Manley, an American couple who were serving on the board of trustees. They offered to bring him back to their home in Ohio where he could be fitted with prosthetic legs and receive an education. He spoke no English and it was a tough transition, "I was still very sick so not having my mom from El Salvador with me was hard. It was harder for her I'm sure." It took him about a year to learn to walk without crutches. "I would fall down after a few steps, but I would always get back up."

Ultimately, with the consent of Hector's parents, the Manley's adopted him. "The adoption was very open," he says. "I have a full family in El Salvador and I visit them twice a year." Hector cites his dad Don Manley's volunteer work as an inspiration. "My dad said one of his best days ever was delivering wheelchairs to El Salvador," he tells Shine. "It makes me think of the people all over the world who don't have wheelchairs. I can't imagine what it would be like to live on the ground. That's where I would be."

Manley's journey begins on May 20, in Lake Itaska, Minnesota. He hopes to arrive in New Orleans about 100 days later. To find out more about the project or to donate please visit www.paddlingforapurpose.org.