Documentary to feature athletes with disabilities
Ryan Summerlin December 24, 2010
ASPEN – A documentary partially filmed in Aspen in recent days will focus on five disabled athletes for whom skiing has proven to be a way to regain a sense of freedom.
Producer Kurt Miller of Boulder said his goal is to use the short film, “The Movement,” to raise money for nonprofit organizations that specialize in recreational opportunities for people with disabilities, including Challenge Aspen.
“The film is about people getting back their freedom, and letting others know that there are opportunities after they become disabled,” Miller said.
One of the featured athletes is Hollywood executive Rick Finkelstein, who was paralyzed from the waist down following a skiing accident nearly six years ago on Aspen Mountain. In fact, Wednesday will mark the anniversary of the accident, which occurred on the intermediate terrain at Kleenex Corner.
Over the past few days, Finkelstein has been skiing for the first time since the accident, using a sit-ski at Snowmass. On Thursday morning, he visited Aspen Mountain – not to ski, but to do an interview at The Sundeck.
While riding up the Silver Queen Gondola, he passed the area where the accident occurred. He said it brought back memories of the afternoon of Dec. 29, 2004.
“It was difficult, but in some ways, satisfying,” said Finkelstein, 61. “It was the first time I’ve been on Aspen Mountain in the winter since the accident.”
Recalling the events that led to his injuries, he said he was skiing Kleenex Corner when he looked back to see if he could spot a friend. He missed a turn and went over the side of the trail, into a 20-foot drop, and his chest slammed into a tree trunk.
“The force was so powerful it snapped my spine,” Finkelstein said. “It was a very powerful hit.”
The result: collapsed lungs, shattered ribs, a broken back. His upper-body injuries healed with time, but he remains paralyzed, with no feeling in his legs.
The Los Angeles resident, who sold his home in Aspen after the accident, said he has enjoyed skiing again and working with Miller on the documentary over the past week. With the sit-ski, “You get the same sensation of speed,” Finkelstein said.
Miller said Finkelstein’s accident and his ability to overcome it will be woven through the documentary.
“It’s the feel-good story,” he said. “Rick had not even seen snow for six years. He never thought he’d ski again.”
Miller said he shot some footage near the spot of Finkelstein’s fall. “It gave me the chills,” he said. “Two feet to the right, and he wouldn’t have hit anything.”
At the time of the accident, Finkelstein was president and chief operating officer of Universal Pictures. Today he is vice chairman of the company.
“After the accident I was away from work for four or five months,” he said. “The company was extremely accommodating. Somehow I’ve been very fortunate that I’ve managed to maintain my career.”
Others who will be featured in “The Movement” include:
• Chris Waddell: With more than 20 Paralympic and World Cup medals, Waddell is the most decorated male skier in U.S. Paralympic history. Paralyzed in a ski accident at age 20, Waddell was on snow again within a year, quickly becoming a leader of his newly adopted sport of monoskiing. He is the first paraplegic to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. A U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame inductee, Waddell has created his own charitable foundation and has worked as a TV personality and motivational speaker.
• Mike May: The world-record holder for speed skiing by a completely blind person, May is a successful entrepreneur and family man. Blinded at age 3 in a chemical explosion, May has led a life of adventure, including a stint as the first blind CIA agent. He produced the first accessible GPS device for blind people. He regained partial vision through a series of transplants in 2000 and is the subject of Robert Kurson’s book “Crashing Through.”
• Jim Martinson: A U.S. Ski Team Paralympic gold medalist, Martinson was the Boston Marathon’s first wheelchair winner, beating all runners. At 63, he still competes successfully in wheelchair and handcycle events. Martinson served in Vietnam, where he lost most of both legs in a landmine explosion. Upon returning to the United States, the lifelong skier discovered very little support for adaptive sports. He became a pioneer in both the technology and cultural acceptance of wheelchair sports.
• Traci Taylor: Born three months premature with the rare congenital disorder Sacral Agenesis and a life-threatening malformation of her heart, lungs, kidneys and legs, Taylor was given the direst prognoses for several years. She not only survived but became a poster child at a March of Dimes event, where she met filmmaker Warren Miller, Kurt Miller’s father. He took her skiing, provided lessons and equipment, and featured her in his next film. She currently works with students with disabilities.
Kurt Miller said filming on the documentary began about nine months ago. He expects to be finished this summer, and is lining up a release at ski resorts nationwide for next winter. He’s working with a $450,000 budget.
Miller mentioned his family’s lengthy background in ski-movie productions. Warren Miller Films made more than 60 ski-related movies starting in the early 1950s. Warren Miller sold the company to son Kurt in the late 1980s, and Kurt later sold it to Time Inc.
Miller said he’s self-producing “The Movement” through his nonprofit organization, Make A Hero. Those who wish to donate money to adaptive sports foundations, including Challenge Aspen, can send the text message “snow” to 50555. A $10 donation will be forwarded to Make A Hero, and the funds will be disbursed to adaptive sports charities.