All Images: Courtesy of F4D Studio
Gary Wyman grew up in Clear Creek County in Colorado, just as snowboarding started to gain traction in the United States. The naturally athletic young kid cut his teeth at Loveland Ski Area and his talents earned him podium finishes in local competitions as well as a sponsorship with Never Summer snowboards. As Wyman got older, he transitioned from athlete to storyteller and eventually landed a marketing position with Icelantic Skis. It was here that Wyman and founder of F4D Studio, Gabe Rovick, first met. Together, the two created several creative campaigns for Icelantic and forged a friendship that would later stand up to a devastating diagnosis.
In 2016, just a few months after getting married, Wyman was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gherig’s disease or ALS. A neurodegenerative disease without a known cause or cure, ALS reduces the functionality of muscles by breaking down nerve cells. Essentially, it attacks every muscle in the body until a person becomes paraplegic and eventually can no longer function. It didn’t take long for Wyman’s physical condition to start deteriorating, so before it was no longer a possibility he proposed the idea of a 5,000-mile, cross-country North American road trip. Rovick enthusiastically agreed to tag along and film the entire experience in an effort to bring more awareness to the disease and the people it affects. What came to be is the raw and heartfelt documentary, FROM THE PASSENGER SEAT, which is now available on-demand on Vimeo with proceeds going directly to ALS awareness.
Below, we caught up with Rovick to dive deeper into the making of this hour-long film and gain a better understanding of Wyman’s unwavering spirit, from the time he was diagnosed to his passing on December 21, 2018.
What inspired you to make, FROM THE PASSENGER SEAT?
When Gary got sick we were spending quite a bit of time just hanging out and as he got further down the road in his illness with ALS, he needed caretakers. My wife is a nurse, so she volunteered a couple days a week to be one of his caretakers and so I’d go over [to see Gary] when she was there and we would just hang out, watch shows, listen to music and just chat. For a while he kept talking about doing this road trip and suggested I come and document it and show people what ALS is all about. I agreed to do it but I didn’t know if it was actually going to happen because he was deteriorating pretty rapidly but eventually we made it happen. We were just going to document it, it wasn’t necessarily going to be an hour-long film at the time but just being on the road trip it kind of just created itself, to be honest with you.
Why was Gary and his story so captivating to you?
Gary was the type of guy who was super supportive of a lot of people’s creativity and their dreams, living life really positively and adventurously. He really supported my passion for creating outdoor film projects and adventure-type work in the outdoor industry. So spending time with him and seeing how difficult it was to do really basic things but still keeping that passion for celebrating other people and helping other people realize their dreams was really pivotal. It was amazing that he could be so selfless when he was going through such a difficult time, but he was constantly looking out for other people.
What was the hardest part about making FROM THE PASSENGER SEAT?
There were definitely a lot of difficult parts but when we did the actual road trip, I stayed from the very beginning to the very end. I was the only person who did the whole thing, so there were times when it was difficult to decide whether I should be a helper or a filmmaker. Once we got back, we didn’t touch much of the footage because Gary only had a few more months. It was tough to watch him pass away before we even started editing the project.
What was your favorite memory from the road trip?
It was super rewarding to see Gary get back out there and do some of the things that he had once thrived at. He was such a good athlete and an adventurous person, so we went skydiving, river rafting and kayaking. Just being able to see him have those experiences in his condition was extremely rewarding.
Were there any unexpected challenges on the road?
Yeah, everyday for sure [laughs]. In the film, there’s a point where the van breaks down at midnight in the middle of nowhere in California and we had to change our plans. The van ended up needing an entirely new engine, so we left the van in California, rented a car and just kept going and then eventually got the van back with a brand-new engine. That was definitely an obstacle we had to overcome.
What parallels can we make between our own lives and Gary’s story?
We all struggle with different things in our lives. It may not be a terminal illness but whether it’s mental health or a tragedy, it’s something. In Gary’s position, he had to ask for help from his loved ones and I think about that a lot because I think it’s important to not be ashamed of needing help. That’s one of the things that I take away from this film is that it’s okay to ask for help and need support. Especially right now, with the things that have been going on in the world the last couple of years, I think that will hit home for a lot of people.
Another thing is being able to express your love for people. In the film, you’ll see a lot of grown men crying and hugging and sharing their love. It’s okay to show love and compassion for people.
How do you see Gary’s legacy living on?
Gary had a ton of friends, especially in the ski and snowboard industry. When he was diagnosed there was a benefit we did at the Ogden theater. It sold out and we raised over $100,000 in the raffle. A lot of people continue to talk about him and I’m hopeful that through this film, people will remember Gary and what he did for a long time.
Have you changed the way you live at all, based on the way Gary faced ALS head-on?
When Gary asked me to go on the road trip with him, it was very short notice from the time we made the decision to go until we actually got going, so I just kind of dropped everything and went. And now I notice myself saying yes to more experiences, trying new things and really chasing my heart.
What can we do to help support those battling ALS?
You can donate to our GoFundMe as well as purchase the film on Vimeo for just $2.95. There are also other organizations you can go to, every city has a local ALS chapter you can donate to as well, including Rocky Mountain ALS. I’ve also been chatting with iamals.org, they have a ton of information and you can also donate to them.
What is the biggest lesson you ever learned from Gary?
If you feel a drive in your heart to experience something and you know it’s going to be good for you, definitely do it. Don’t let fear hold you back. That had to be extremely terrifying for Gary to make the decision to go on that road trip and he did it anyway.
You’re at the top of a big line, your palms are sweaty and your heart is racing, what would Gary tell you to do?
Send it! [laughs]