On December 21, 2018, 38-year-old Gary Wyman, an avid outdoorsman, died from ALS. On December 21, 2021, From the Passenger Seat, a movie documenting a 28-day road trip that Wyman took after his diagnosis, will premiere online.
Raised in Evergreen, Wyman took up snowboarding early at Loveland Ski Area. After Never Summer, a Denver-based snowboarding gear and apparel company, was founded in 1991, he became a young brand-sponsored athlete, using its products and promoting them on the slopes. He continued working in the outdoor industry for most of his life, including one job with Patagonia and another with Icelantic Skis.
While working for Icelantic, Wyman met filmmaker Gabriel Rovick, founder and creative director of F4D Studio, a Golden-based studio that specializes in visual creative services for everything from marketing and social media to film. Wyman and Rovick, who shared many friends and a love of adventure, wound up working on film projects together.
In 2016, Wyman married his wife, Katie. She soon noticed that his speech was slowing slightly and he was experiencing weakness in one of his hands. In the film, she says that when she saw a Vice News video about ALS, she instantly knew what was wrong with her husband. Just four months after their wedding, Wyman was diagnosed with ALS, a neurodegenerative disease that wastes away muscles and the spinal cord.
People with ALS have a two-to-five-year life expectancy after diagnosis. In 2018, Wyman decided to make a cross-country road trip in his refurbished Volkswagen van and asked Rovick, whose wife is a nurse who was helping care for him, to come along.
Rovick recalls that Wyman "was like, ‘You should come along and you should film it, and we should make a video about it, because it'll be really cool.’” So Rovick did.
Wyman describes his own diagnosis in the film, holding the camera in his hand and speaking directly to it. Throughout the trip, he emphasizes the importance of saying "I love you." Friends joined the pair for different legs of the trip, giving him the chance to say both "I love you" and "Goodbye" often. “The first set of goodbyes was really when I was like, ‘Yeah, this is a major thing,’” Rovick says.
The hour-long film includes a goodbye from Wyman, as well. In that post-trip interview, Wyman, who used a computer to talk after the ALS progressed, discusses his decision to use the Death With Dignity Act to end his life, sharing how he went from feeling anger and resentment at the time of his diagnosis to making peace with it. “What did I do that all these people want to come with me and help me?” Wyman asks, reflecting on those who supported him on his road trip and life's journey.
“The film's not just for people that are terminally ill,” he notes. “It's also for people who are struggling in other ways. It's okay to have pain and feelings and then also to ask for help.”
The movie is also designed to educate the audience about ALS and how to help the fight against the disease. Wyman and many of his family members and friends discuss how they'd heard about ALS but never really thought about it beyond the 2015 Ice Bucket Challenge, a viral trend in which people dump icy water over their heads to raise awareness of ALS.
In fact, Wyman used the Ice Bucket Challenge to announce his diagnosis on social media and announce a fundraiser for both his medical and ALS research that was hosted at the Ogden Theatre. Funding for the movie was also sourced through donations.
“The goal is to continue to educate people, by using the film, about what ALS is and raise some funds so we can help with ALS research,” Rovick concludes. “There's definitely some progression being made but..there's still no cure.”
Watch From the Passenger Seat starting at 7 p.m. Monday, December 21, on Vimeo on Demand. A portion of the proceeds will go toward ALS research; learn more at fromthepassengerseatfilm.com.