Monday, June 9, 2008

The Way Bobby Sees It: Laugh a Little

I’ve watched The Way Bobby Sees It, a documentary about Bobby McMullen’s preparations for the 2007 Downieville Classic downhill race, about eight times now and I have never been able to make it through the film without needing a Kleenex. The last time I saw it—with a group of guys from the cycling industry—Bobby was there and he was baffled, “Nobody ever laughs at the funny parts.” That’s because the movie’s so intense that the funny parts are the few times when you get a chance to take a breath.

Bobby McMullen is one of cycling’s most publicized disabled athletes. Not only is he an extremely talented rider, but he’s also a smart and hilarious guy whose day job is motivational speaking. Although Bobby is blind (20/1200 in his good eye), has received two double organ transplants, and has encountered more severe injuries from riding and skiing than most of us can comprehend, he literally lives to ride his bike. Bobby is a former Paralympian on the US Disabled Ski Team and races his downhill bike more often than many World Cup riders.

The opening scene sets viewer on edge, with Bobby’s guide calling out commands in a way that sounds desperate. The screen is black and the voices are loud and hurried. The irony is that these sounds are actually somewhat comforting to Bobby—the louder, more accurate, and more frequent the commands, the greater Bobby’s chances of staying upright. Then the mood changes a bit as Bobby reads his full-page spread Santa Cruz bikes ad. He’s wearing glasses that look to be more than an inch thick, and he nearly touches his face to the pages to read the text.

Filmmakers Wendy Todd and Jason Watkins do a phenomenal job of weaving Bobby’s personal story with gripping action shots from a Bobby’s helmet cam and a following camera. They also implement special effects to give us a sense of what Bobby may or may not be seeing as he rides. The Way Bobby Sees It is the second documentary from Wendy and Jason’s Poison Oak Productions. Their first film, Singletrack MINDS, examined the mountain bike culture of Marin County.

However, The Way Bobby Sees It puts these two into a completely new environment. Even though they are the filmmakers, they become a huge part of Bobby’s story when he asks them to guide him down the Downieville downhill course on one of his practice days. The scenes where Bobby rides with his new guides drive home the extent to which Bobby has to trust and completely rely on the accurate commands from his guide. Whether you’ve ridden the Downieville course hundreds of times, or whether you’ve never seen it before, these scenes make it obvious that Bobby and his guide have to do things right or someone (usually Bobby) is going down hard.

And there are funny parts. Bobby is a joker, and that aspect of his personality is not lost in the film. It’s just hard for most of us to grasp that after learning about a person going through dialysis, taking hundreds of pills a week, and dealing with a life of dependency on others, that it’s OK to laugh with or at him. In the end, though, all Bobby wants to do is have fun. That’s why he rides his bike.

The Way Bobby Sees It has been accepted to several film festivals throughout the US. To see how the film is doing, or to check out a screening, visit

Now you can buy your own copy from Freeride Foundation! Click here to get your hands on one!

No comments: