"Mile of Hope" - Filmmaker captures quadriplegic Dan Cummings determination to walk again...
If he took it one day at a time and gave it his all, Dan Cummings truly believed that he would eventually walk again.
Seven years after a diving accident made him a quadriplegic at age 19, after moving across the country and undergoing countless hours of grueling physical therapy, Cummings took his first steps using a walker in 2007.
“I felt like I was flying. It was a surreal feeling, like I was floating,” Cummings, 33, said. “Not walking again was never an option. I said absolutely not. I was young, and I refused to accept that.”
Cummings’ story is told in the documentary “Mile of Hope: The Dan Cummings Story,” which was written and directed by Hull filmmaker David Fresina.
After finishing his first film, about a 1978 plane crash, Fresina was looking for a project when he heard Cummings on the radio in October 2010.
Ten years after breaking his neck, Cummings was gearing up to walk a mile as a fundraiser for his Canton-based nonprofit, Journey Forward, which he founded in 2008. Like the facility Cummings attended in San Diego, Journey Forward helps people with spinal cord injuries through an intense, exercise-based program that aims to retrain the nervous system.
Fresina then saw Cummings on the television news. That pushed him to pitch the documentary.
“I thought, ‘This kid keeps coming back to me,’ so we sealed the deal and starting filming in 2011,” said Fresina, who pursues filmmaking in his spare time. “I was blown away by Dan’s drive and commitment. It was hard to believe a person like him exists.”
Standing with a walker inside his Canton gym, Cummings recalled the evening of June 24, 2000, when he dove into a lake without realizing how shallow the water was. After pulling Cummings to shore, a friend tried touching his legs.
“I couldn’t feel it, and I knew immediately what had happened,” he said. “That’s the last thing I remember. My mind went into shock.”
For weeks, doctors at Boston Medical Center weren’t sure if Cummings would survive. If he did, they said, he’d be dependent, confined to a wheelchair and unable to perform basic tasks, such as feeding himself.
Cummings began physical therapy after leaving the hospital, but he felt therapists were teaching him how to live in a wheelchair. He wanted to learn to walk again.
After hearing about Project Walk, a spinal cord injury recovery center in San Diego, Cummings flew out to meet his brother Jim, who lives in Los Angeles, and they visited the center together.
“I knew immediately it was something I needed to be a part of,” he said. “But I knew I’d have to do it on my own, so I forced myself into independence. I learned to dress myself. I learned to drive and I got my license.”
It took Cummings four years at Project Walk, but when he returned to Hyde Park, it was on two feet. Footage of Cummings walking into a room full of his loved ones is included in the film, along with other home videos.
“You see a lot of footage and the evolution of taking 10 years to walk a mile,” Fresina said. “In every scene there’s something someone says that sticks out to me. I was captivated by how people process things like this, and what the conversations are that people have with each other.”
Cummings said he was most surprised to hear about the conversations that were going on between family and friends when he wasn’t around.
“They thought I was delusional and in denial, and they said, ‘Who’s going to break the news to him that he’ll never walk again?’” Cummings said.
“The scenes that stick with me are when I hear my mom talk about it. I’ve seen the film several times and it still brings tears to my eyes.”