This Sunday, Jeffree Davidson called me to inform me that Shelly passed away early that morning. His death was sudden, and unexpected. Just the day before, Shelly had registered for this year’s Pat’s Run.
With sadness, I felt thankful that I was able to speak to Shelly on the phone recently and hear his reaction to “The Finish Line.” It meant so much to him to be able to share his story with others. As he says in the film, “If I can inspire just one person…”
From the notes I receive daily, I know that Shelly’s story is already inspiring others. I believe it has the potential to inspire many more, too. The Pat Tillman Foundation is planning to include a story about Shelly in this year’s program guide for the race, and to provide a link to the film. I am also encouraged to do everything I can to share Shelly’s story. If you haven’t shared the story with anyone else yet, now is a great time to pass it on.
Watch the movie now by clicking here. On the movie page, you can share the film on Facebook or Twitter, or just share the link with others.
Will Manning, a composer from the United Kingdom, has been selected to compose the score for “The Finish Line.”
When Will saw our Kickstarter video for the project, he found the story touching and believed that he could create a moving score to accompany Shelly’s tale of perseverance. He got in touch with us and after we got to know his work a bit, we agreed that he would do a great job.
Will specializes in emotive, minimal scores typically based around piano and strings and is a performer as well as composer. He records his scores at his studio in London.
If you want to hear some of Will’s work, check out a video he made during a visit in New York. He shot the time-lapse footage himself.
Last Friday, we visited the Davidsons at home to capture their normal routine. Instead, we witnessed a milestone in Shelly’s recovery.
And like completing Pat’s Run each year, each milestone comes after a long road of challenges.
Almost a year ago, Shelly’s already difficult recovery became further complicated when doctors determined that to avoid contracting pneumonia from aspirating food, Shelly would have to eat through a feeding tube. Recently, a problem with the amount of water he was receiving brought him back to the hospital with a frightening, accidental drug overdose. In spite of it all, as we prepared to capture the process on camera, Shelly presented his ability to laugh even in the worst circumstances: “soup du jour!” he exclaimed as he pulled a can of his nutritional shake from among countless other identical cans in the cabinet.
While Shelly has had to mostly forgo the enjoyment of chewing and swallowing food (he does get an occasional
As we’ve discovered to be the norm, though, Shelly makes remarkable progress in spite of setbacks. Wanting to capture the process of loading Shelly into the car to get to the race, we had practiced shooting someone who was disabled getting into an SUV. In our practices, we carefully loaded an actor who stood in for Shelly, supporting him into the car, and lifting his legs into the wheel well. The real Shelly, however, was much faster, needing almost no help into the car whatsoever. Once in and buckled, he added in a friendly wave for good measure. Then, when we wanted to capture a new angle, he was ready to do it again.
But the breakthrough came during Shelly’s practice walk. Although he was told he would never walk again, Shelly regularly practices walking in the park behind his house. Jenn holds a strap that circles Shelly’s waist and helps him as he walks with his arm in walking sticks. It’s a painstaking process, and Jenn keeps the wheelchair close at hand in case Shelly needs to sit down. Through the wireless microphone we had attached to Jenn to hear the words they exchanged during the process, I could hear Jenn’s words of encouragement and then amazement as Shelly didn’t take his usual breaks. With our cameras following him, Shelly marched ahead, until Jenn could hardly believe what she was seeing. As Shelly rounded a curve on the sidewalk, he remarked that the curve was difficult for him to navigate. What we didn’t realize until afterwards was that the curve in the sidewalk was difficult because it was not a normal part of Shelly’s practice course. Last Friday, in spite of months of not eating regular food and his recent hospital stay, Shelly walked further than he ever had before.
It isn’t every Saturday that we start working at 6:15 in the morning, but on April 20th, it was worth it to be a part of Shelly’s 9th journey to the finish line.
35,000 runners is the kind of figure you have to experience in person to appreciate. The crowd was huge, and throbbing with energy. In the commotion, we struggled to meet up with all our camera operators. Cellular signals became jammed because of the high concentration of phones, so communication was spotty at best. Eventually, and with the help of texts, which seemed to work better, we were slowly able to assemble our crew.
I doubt we were the only ones there who felt a slight sense of unease because of the very recent marathon bombing in Boston, and there was a moment of silence in remembrance of that event. Not long after the race began, a runner – or perhaps an undercover security officer – asked Dixie whether the equipment we had near the main race area was hers.
But fun music and the excitement of the crowd soon drowned out any sense of sadness or fear, and corral by corral, the race began. Distracted by the jubilant chaos and the enormity of the task at hand, I didn’t even notice when Shelly and Jennifer came rolling right by me. When I finally saw them, we were off without a moment to think.
In spite of having to push her dad, Jennifer took off with remarkable speed. A regular runner, Jenn would from time to time break into a jog behind the wheelchair. It proved to be a difficult act to follow while carrying ten pounds of camera equipment. By the first mile marker, Jason and I gulped down water from the small cups held out by cheerful volunteers.
After a mile or so, we broke off from Jenn and Shelly and took a shortcut to meet them towards the end of the course. Unfortunately, cell phones were our only source of communication, and I tried and failed fourteen times to find out where Jenn was with her father. Finally, I texted my friend Leslie, who was already in Sun Devil Stadium, and asked whether Shelly was in the stadium already. I was shocked when her texts came back: “He is here. Are you by Shelly?” We rushed into the stadium, and found Shelly on his final approach to the finish line.
Very quickly, we started capturing footage and in spite of the close call, we were able to capture Shelly’s successful trip across the finish line – on his own two feet – with four different cameras. As Shelly approached the finish line, which is at the 42-yard line of Sun Devil Stadium, the stadium announcer alerted the crowd that Shelly was about to cross. Straining with every step, I was surprised how quickly Shelly made it to the finish line, his daughter not far behind. After his victory, some ASU football players greeted Shelly, wanting to shake his hand.
It would be hard not to want to shake his hand. In my case, it was hard not to feel thankful to have experienced Shelly and Jenn’s seventh trip across the finish line together. The opening of the race was full of the chaos of getting people together in a crowd, the earliness of the morning alarm clock to get there, and a tinge of sadness at the tragedy in Boston. The race was long too, with moments of checking media credentials and hauling around heavy equipment on foot. But at the finish line, I felt humbled to have been able to enjoy this moment with Shelly and Jenn. I remembered the hundreds of people who put their energy and resources behind our Kickstarter campaign. As I write this, I am thankful for all of it.
Thank you, thank you, thank you to everyone who made our Kickstarter campaign for “The Finish Line” successful with your likes, posts, shares, phone calls, texts, tweets, prayers, pledges, and more. Tomorrow morning, we head to Tempe to capture Shelly Davidson’s seventh attempt at the finish line after a massive stroke. This means a lot to him and his family, and I hope that after “The Finish Line” it will mean a lot to many more.
And before long, it’s off to bed. We’ve got a documentary to shoot tomorrow.