FN Managing Editor A.C. Shilton interviews documentary filmmaker Robin Hauser Reynolds about her film, “Running for Jim,” screening next week at the Naples International Film Festival.
A few years ago, Robin Hauser Reynolds’ daughter, Holland Reynolds, became “Internet famous” when a YouTube video of her collapsing and crawling across the finish line at a high school cross-country meet went viral. The then 17-year-old Reynolds had pushed herself to the absolute limit trying to secure one last state championship win for her coach, Jim Tracy, who had recently been diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease.
“We’re kind of a private family, and all of the sudden she was receiving all of this attention from, frankly, something that was kind of embarrassing,” says Hauser Reynolds. But when the morning shows and documentary filmmakers kept calling, Hauser Reynolds saw an opportunity to shift the story from her daughter to Tracy’s incredible career and his fight against ALS.
Next week, “Running for Jim” is screening at the Naples International Film Festival. We spoke with Robin Hauser Reynolds about making the film, her daughter’s relationship to Tracy and her goals for the project.
FN: Were you a documentary filmmaker before all of this happened or did you simply get involved because of this project?
RHR: This is my first film. I’m a photographer, but I’d always wanted to try filmmaking—I never thought I’d do a project involving my teenage daughter though! After the video went viral we started to be approached by film people and my daughter and I had a discussion and I said, “You know, there may be a way to redirect all of this attention from you onto the disease.” That’s when we decided to make the film ourselves.
FN: Tell us a bit about what that infamous cross-country meet was like.
RHR: You know, Holland knew she wouldn’t finish first, there was another really strong girl competing that day, but there was a lot of pressure on all the girls. They knew this might be their coach’s last chance at another state title. At the time he was tied for the most state championship titles and they really wanted to break that record for him. But Holland had had a cold that week; she knew it wasn’t going to be her best race.
FN: How did you balance protecting your daughter’s privacy while still telling this story?
RHR: It was not easy but honestly the film was never supposed to be about her. It’s about Coach Jim; he’s really the hero here. But also, we wanted to portray how cross-country is a team sport. What Holland did was kind of the perfect storm, but there were so many other incredible stories from the team. For example, one of her teammates fell in the open meet and got up, was in last place and still managed to finish 16th out of 398 runners. It really took all seven girls doing their part to win that title.
FN: Is your daughter still running and does she keep in touch with Coach Tracy?
RHR: She is still running; she’s at Colgate University where she’s on the cross-country team. Every time she’s home she goes and visits Coach Jim. They are very, very close and they email back and forth. Last summer she did an unpaid internship with the ALS Association of San Francisco. She’s really matured and it’s been such an incredible experience for her.
FN: What is your ultimate goal for this film?
RHR: I want people to become aware of what ALS is and get involved. I want to inspire philanthropy. If we inspire one person in the audience to get up and get involved then we’ve achieved our goal.
“Running for Jim” is screening Friday, November 8, at 4:30 p.m. and Saturday, November 9, at 12:00 p.m. at Silverspot Cinema. The film is expected to sell out, so don’t wait to buy your tickets. Tickets are available here.