No limits: Film chronicles local’s battle to raise awareness of ataxia through bike race |

No limits: Film chronicles local’s battle to raise awareness of ataxia through bike race

Kyle Bryant stops to take a rest and talk with a fan.
Submitted photo |

Know & Go

What: 16th Annual Nevada City Film Festival

When: Thursday-Sunday

WHERE: Historic Locations throughout Nevada City including Miners Foundry Cultural Center, 325 Spring St.; Nevada Theatre, 401 Broad St.; and Ol¹ Republic Brewery, 124 Argall Way, Nevada City

TICKETS: Tickets $10 GA/$8 Student & NCFF Members for individual screenings, Early Bird Festival Passes $59 (limited to 200, available until 9/1), $89 GA/$79 Student & NCFF Members Festival Passes.

Advance tickets available online at, by phone at (530) 362-8601, and in person at NCFF HQ 110 Union St,

Floor 1, Nevada City.

Of the many independent films that will be shown at this year’s Nevada City Film Festival, Saturday’s feature-length documentary “The Ataxian” is the only one to not only boast a local as its star, but is also the creation of two local filmmakers.

The film follows Kyle Bryant, a Bear River High School grad, who suffers from Friedreich’s ataxia (FA). Friedreich’s ataxia is a neuromuscular disease that causes damage to the nerve tissue inside the spinal column; the degeneration of that tissue causes coordination problems, and can lead to shortened lives for those with the disease. That has never stopped Bryant, who began raising money to find a cure for FA by taking part in long cross- country bike trips.

His 2010 endeavor, completing an intense eight-day marathon known as the Race Across America with three of his friends, is the backdrop for the documentary.

Directors Zack Bennett and Kevin Schlanser say that as soon as they heard about Bryant’s story and his upcoming race, they knew they had to document it.

“One of the stories I always tell is, at the beginning of the movie, there’s a scene where Kyle is speaking to the camera; he was doing a little blog, and that’s the first piece of footage I ever saw (of Kyle),” said Schlanser. “He was talking to the camera about the Race Across America, but it wasn’t what he was saying as much as the way he was saying it. Within the first five seconds, his charisma leapt through the screen and I got chills watching the video. The moment you see this guy and hear him speak, you can tell he’s one of a kind.”

The expedition was incredibly grueling for the riding group, Bryant says.

“The first two days, nobody slept because we were so amped and excited,” he said. “We had been thinking about this for a year, and now we were finally on the road. I remember specifically on day three that I had never been so sore in my life. I couldn’t even touch my thighs with one finger without crazy pain. It was an all-out sprint to cross the U.S.”

It wasn’t easy for the small crew that shot the film either, the directors said. The RV that they rented broke down half a dozen times, Schlanser says, leading to stressful moments for all involved. But it was Bryant’s own perseverance, according to Schlanser, that gave the crew extra determination.

“In getting to know Kyle and Shaun and this whole community of people who are dealing with (ataxia) but keep going, I realized having limits is really not in their vocabulary at all. It was really inspiring,” he said.

Bryant was happy just to see the film made. As someone who has spent many years not only fighting FA himself, but battling for others diagnosed with the disease, he hopes that audiences understand the issues FA causes.

“I’m really grateful that the journey was captured,” he said. “Originally, I just wanted someone to capture it with a little video camera just so (the race) would live longer than just those eight days. But the filmmakers did so much more than that. They not only captured those eight days, they captured the struggle of those that live with Friedreich’s ataxia face. In that way, they made it much bigger than just a bike race.

“It’s not just about me. Me, Sean, Mike and John were the four main riders in the film, but we’re just a vehicle to tell the story of the FA community; it’s really about the whole community coming together and making this happen,” Bryant added.

The first screening of the film will take place at 3 p.m. in the Nevada Theatre, with another screening scheduled at 7 p.m. in the Miners Foundry. All three locals expressed excitement that the community they grew up in was going to have the opportunity to see the piece of art they worked so hard on.

“I can’t wait,” Bryant said. “I developed as a person and learned so much in that community. I’ve been in that very theater, the Nevada Theatre, for a play. So, just all those memories and everything that’s dear to my heart is in that community. To have the film there and let that community in on this aspect of my life and what it means to battle this disease is really a neat thing.”

Spencer Kellar is a freelance writer living in Nevada City; he can be reached at

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