The image resonated around the world -- a teenaged runner collapses, but then crawls across the finish line to win the California state championship for her coach, who's fighting a fatal disease. ABC, CNN, ESPN, the New York Times, Japanese TV and other media all featured the same story about the triumph of the human spirit.
But, we knew there was much more to discover. How does an old-school coach develop such a close bond with today's teenagers? How did his past shape the man he's become? How is he able, time and again, to turn normal high school students into state champions? How have the kids reacted to the battle he's waging against Lou Gehrig's Disease or ALS, a battle that he will unquestionably lose?
We used a journalistic approach with Coach Jim Tracy, virtually embedding with him for a year-and-a-half. It took time, but he finally opened up about his painful childhood, traveling the horse race circuit with an alcoholic father. That's where he first showed talent as a runner, racing other kids on the dirt tracks after the horses went to their stalls. Coach Jim took us to San Francisco's Summer of Love where his pursuit of running won out over the temptations of the times. And, he showed us the hard choices he made later in life, foregoing creature comforts and a traditional family life to pursue his ultimate passion. Here is a guy forced to sleep in his car at times, while coaching at one of the country's most elite private high schools.
We tailored our production techniques to the moment: from multiple cameras and Steadicam to capture the thrill of high school meets, to a single DSLR for the painfully intimate moment when a doctor catalogued the toll ALS has taken on Coach Jim. He granted us total access to his treatment, to his physical therapy where swimming takes the place of running, and to his quest for admission into clinical trials for a new ALS drug.
We profiled the founder of an ALS clinic who ironically became a patient himself, and one young man who was diagnosed while still in college. But, at the center of the film is Jim, a quirky character whose love for the kids shines through a gruff exterior, and where the students try their best to "win it for Jim".
This is a labor of love for first time filmmakers, with proceeds to fund ALS research and to help Coach Jim as he fights the disease.