When we think about Red Bull Media House’s film catalog, images of people diving off of cliffs, climbing unfathomable rock walls, and kayaking over colossal waterfalls come to mind. Let’s just say their documentaries, and the brand itself, are synonymous with adventure and extreme sports. To the general viewer, it may seem these athletes have a death wish; but for the thrill-seekers themselves, pushing limits in their chosen sport is the only way they truly feel alive. At this year’s SXSW Film Festival, RBMH premiered yet another documentary about a young athlete revolutionizing his sport. But this time, being the best came at a heavy price — a career-ending spinal cord injury. Any One of Us follows professional mountain biker Paul Basagoitia through the aftermath of the accident that dramatically changed his life.
A few days prior to his injury in 2015, Basagoitia purchased a brand-new action camera. When he found himself paralyzed in the intensive care unit, he hadn’t even had the chance to play around with it yet. So, while lying in his hospital bed, he picked up his new gadget and began filming his journey to recovery.
Sprinkled in with Basagoitia’s footage are interviews with seasoned spinal cord injury survivors, many of which have been featured on Wheel:Life in the past. Through their stories, the audience learns that not all SCIs are equal, and one person’s experience may be completely different from another’s. We hear from a variety of people who sustained their injuries in differing ways — from car accidents to medical malpractice to a falling tree — and they each contribute their own anecdotes to help viewers better understand Basagoitia’s battle as they follow along on his quest to walk again.
As a professional athlete, setting goals and overcoming challenges was second nature for Basagoitia, and viewers see him carry that work ethic over to his new objective. In a Q&A session at SXSW, he even called learning to walk again his new “Rampage,” referring to an elite freeride mountain biking competition that he never succeeded in winning.
With his girlfriend (now fiancé), Nichole Munk, by his side providing both rock-solid support and tough love, Basagoitia starts noticing small improvements in mobility and sensation. To SCI survivors who are still seated years after their injury, Basagoitia may seem like one of the lucky ones who was eventually able to leave his wheelchair behind. Although he hasn’t regained the level of mobility he once had as a professional athlete, in an interview with Wheel:Life, he expressed coming away from this experience with a renewed sense of appreciation for the little things in life such as urinating on his own after a brief period of having to self-catheterize. He even shares footage of a late-night cathing session in the film with the hopes of giving people a deeper understanding of what goes on behind closed doors for many people living with SCI.
When asked in the same interview what advice they would give to others going through a similar situation, both Basagoitia and Munk talked about the importance of acknowledging progress and celebrating victories no matter how small they may seem. Having patience was also high on Basagoitia’s list of coping tools. Over three years post-injury, he states he’s training just as hard as day one and continuing to experience gains. That day, he was using a cane, but he still aspires to walk assistance-free in the future.
At SXSW, around 150 spectators, among which were a handful of wheelchair users, gathered for the Any One of Us premiere and subsequent Q&A with director Fernando Villena, Basagoitia, Munk, and a few other members of the cast and crew. Judging from audience feedback (or at least those who were brave enough to approach the microphone), the film was well received and seemed to stir up emotions from past experiences either of their own or loved ones. Tears were shed and much gratefulness was expressed.
It wasn’t all praise, however. One viewer asked why the documentary didn’t portray more of the adaptations people living with SCI must make on a daily basis in order to simply get by. Villena replied that they, regrettably, didn’t capture any of those narratives on camera.
Another critical review comes from a member of the USA Wheelchair Rugby team who was present at the screening as well, but didn’t speak at the Q&A:
“As a quadriplegic, some of the scenes deeply resonated with my own experiences, but in the end, the film sends the wrong message. Rather than focusing on the incredible and fulfilling existence as a wheelchair user, the audience is subjected to the worn out narrative that life is hardly worth living without the ability to walk. The filmmakers brought in other individuals from the SCI community, but these voices seldom offered a contrasting viewpoint to that of Paul’s. This documentary was a missed opportunity to show the public that while challenging, wheelchair users live full, vibrant, and happy lives.” -Jeff Butler, Paralympic Silver Medalist
On the other hand, one of Butler’s teammates had a completely opposing viewpoint:
“Any One of Us is a well-documented account of how a young man with world-class talent handled a life-changing event. The journey of him and his girlfriend during rehabilitation definitely was relatable because I myself had the same journey with my girlfriend. Today, we are married going on 22 years. There are several experiences captured in the documentary that are very personal and allow everyone to see what is really happening during his rehabilitation. When he realized he probably will never compete in mountain biking again and accepted what had happened to him, I think that’s when he emotionally began to heal and started to live a new way of life. I’m glad he was willing to document his journey at a time when he was at rock bottom. We get to see him rise above the adversity. Life will go on with or without you. The question is are you going to sit it out or live in it?” -Bryan Kirkland, Member of Team USA Wheelchair Rugby, Three-time Paralympic Medal Winner
Cast member Annette Ross sums the film up this way:
“This is a poignant and real film with live footage of the moment that forever changed one life. Paul’s unwavering efforts to walk pay off, but the audience is left feeling compassion for those who have to somehow navigate a new world where the joy of living has been compromised in ways that before were unimaginable.” -Annette Ross, Author, Cast Member of Any One of Us
For the time being, Any One of Us is on the film festival circuit with upcoming dates at Newport Beach, Bentonville, Telluride, and Greenwich. Red Bull Media House is aiming for a wider release this fall when all proceeds from the film will go to Wings For Life, a nonprofit whose mission is to find a cure for spinal cord injury.
Keep this film on your radar by visiting the website and following along on Facebook and Instagram. In addition to raising funds for SCI research, the documentary can also be used as an educational tool to spread awareness about spinal cord injury and the challenges survivors face. When it arrives at a theater near you, grab some friends and family (and perhaps some tissues) for 87 minutes of emotional highs and lows, encouragement to face your battles head-on, and a reminder that spinal cord injury truly can happen to any one of us.
Watch the Any One of Us trailer here:
About the Author
Betsy Bailey has a diverse background that includes experience in marketing research, business operations, travel and culinary writing, and playing volleyball professionally overseas.
Betsy has been writing for Wheel:Life since January of 2017 and thoroughly enjoys the process of getting to know her interviewees. She also teaches students learning English as a second language, speaks French fluently, and travels any chance she gets!