Family with Incline Village roots to make film about first Down syndrome summit of Grand Teton (video)
November 8, 2018
INCLINE VILLAGE — In August 2017, Andrew "Bob/Ducky" Harris became the first person with Down syndrome to climb the Grand Teton, the highest point in Wyoming's Teton Range at 13,775 feet.
Growing up in Incline Village with an active family, 32-year-old Bob is no stranger to the outdoors. He paddleboards, skis, rides horses, hikes, rock climbs, and runs.
"My whole life Bob has been my buddy," said his sister Amy Hammer, who he now lives with in Reno. "I've always wanted him to come with me places. We'd hike down to rocky beaches, and I remember using his belt loops as a harness to help him get anywhere because I wanted him to be a part of it."
After overcoming health issues in his mid-20s that had him eating exclusively from a feeding tube, Bob returned to the outdoors and hiking, climbing and running regularly with Amy and their family.
"When he started beating my dad running was in the last five to seven years," said Amy. "He's gone on 15-mile runs before."
And when Amy's husband Max Hammer, a professional skier and mountain guide, came into Bob's life around five years ago, his adventures only got bigger.
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"Amy and I climbed the Tetons together and it was a pretty important moment for us — a powerful one," said Max. "At first we kind of joked about Bob doing it, too, but then we realized it's nothing beyond what he's done before. He's climbed way harder in the climbing gym, and he's done as close to as long of hikes."
Around two years ago the trio began preparing for the trek at the climbing gym and around Donner Summit.
"We knew there would be multi-pitch climbing so we had to figure out how to do that together and safely," said Max. "I would usually go first and bring the rope up and set protection and anchors, then Amy would be on a separate rope next to Andrew or even on the same rope just in front of him so she could guide him or help him through unclipping or specific hand holds."
On Aug. 15, 2017, they set out at 5 a.m. to climb the 7,000 vertical feet to the top of the Grand Teton.
With the encouragement of Amy — "Do it for Batman! Do it for the Ninja Turtles!" — and a sheer love of hiking and climbing, Bob reached the summit around 5 p.m.
"He was so, so stoked," said Amy. "We had chills. I don't think we realized until it happened what a huge deal it was."
Filmmakers Mark Fisher and Eric Daft were there to capture the entire journey, but it wasn't until recently that they decided what exactly to do with the footage.
"At first we thought we could do this documentary about his climb and how he overcame his disability, but that's not really what happened," said Max. "He didn't overcome his disability. We had to work with it and he's still got it and we're not trying to overcome it. We love him for who he is."
Instead, they decided that they would make the movie for Bob who "loves everything from Sesame Street to Indiana Jones." They want it to be a fun film for Bob and others like him to watch, but also one that inspires people with Down syndrome and their families to spend time outside, eat well and stay active.
"When he does those things well his overall happiness and health is so good," said Max. "In the movie, we will use the Grand as an accomplishment or an achievement that's so incredible, but not possible without the real lifestyle choices that come from food and activity."
The film, entitled "Ducky Goes Up: Health & Happiness with Down Syndrome," will feature original songs and animation — and lots of footage of Bob from his trek up the Grand and his day-to-day life with Max and Amy.
This fall Max and Amy launched a Kickstarter to crowdsource the funds for the film. As of Oct. 30, they surpassed their $49,000 goal by over $4,000 with 329 contributions and nine days to go.
"This morning has been the most unbelievable morning ever," said Amy that same day. "The best part of this is it's brought a pretty big group into the conversation. I've always had this life with Bob, and I'm really lucky for that. Now he has the opportunity to affect some many more people."
The additional funds could help to turn the film into part of a series, said Amy.
"Who is the outdoors for? Who is the world for? It's for everyone. We saw so many people who were touched by seeing Bob out there on the climb," said Amy. "It's about getting those message across, but also really reaching back and making this for Bob. He has no drive to do anything but good in the world. His only intention is love, and he is truly the most wonderful person."
To make a contribution to the Kickstarter, visit http://kck.st/2A3CI5B.
Claire Cudahy is a special assignments reporter for the Sierra Nevada Media Group. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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