It was 2010, when trees started to shed their leaves and the bitter Syracuse winter began to cool the air, that I met Andrew Cunningham, a young 12-year-old boy diagnosed with a rare form of muscular dystrophy. His Aunt introduced us after seing a short video I had done about the historic Columbus Bakery. She had wanted me to meet her nephew and his teammates on Central New York United power soccer. I was sold! Imagine 5 guys dribbling a large soccer ball across a basketball court in their power wheelchairs, only to release it after spinning 180 degrees at high speeds to shoot a goal. It's exhilarating and nothing you could ever imagine.
I spent a number of days filming Andrew and his teammates, intent on producing a short promo video for the team, when I noticed a unique dynamic between Andrew and his teammate Tony Reuter, 20, born with brittle bone disease and 8 years his elder. They were both kids in the element, making fun of each other, arm wrestling, and singing out of tune. It was beautiful to watch this genuine friendship and affection for each other that seemed to border on brotherhood.
For the next year I would follow the two boys through their daily lives, I'd be at power soccer practice, at middle school or college, and allow myself to be absorbed into their world. Their bouts of Xbox challenges and arguments on each other's Facebook walls were not much different from those I shared with my own best friends (however I don't play Xbox). The more time I spent with them, the more I realized that despite their disabilities, they still experience the same challenges, pitfalls, and successes that you or I experience through puberty and young adult life. Andrew is moving to high school, as Tony graduates college. Andrew relies on his father for his care, as Tony has been able to find a sense of independence. Their situations are physically different, though they find support in their similarities.
What began as a marketing piece for a power soccer team, turned into a graduate assignment for a documentary film class, which then evolved into my Master's project: "Follow My Steps" a 16-minute short film. In October 2012, I defended my project alongside my classmates Maureen Coyle, who published the iBook, "Death Valley Unified," and Zach Ornitz, who produced the short film, "Vaya a la Cumbre." It was well received, and passed unanimously by my committee who I thank for their help and support: Eric Maierson, Seth Gitner, and Bruce Strong. I would also like to acknowledge the color grading done by Michael Curry, without which this film would never have looked so good.
Since its release, the film has received a number of accolades, including 2nd Place Documentary Multimedia Story in the 2013 NPPA Best of Photojournalism competition, and 2nd Place Longform Multimedia in the 2013 Northern Short Course Contest. It's since screened at the Athens International Film + Video Festival, and has been accepted into the Society for Disability Studies 26th Annual Conference.
Please take a moment to watch the film, "Follow My Steps".