An HBO documentary that follows the story of several individuals and their experiences with spinal cord injuries has been nominated for two Sports Emmys, and the man who helped capture the story of one of those individuals and provided 20 minutes of significant footage is Cloverdale native Nick Pavelka.
The film, called “Any One of Us,” captures the reality of dealing with spinal cord injuries and calls attention to the stigma that only athletes are susceptible to life-changing spinal injuries.
While Pavelka did not set out to become part of a major documentary, his friendship with mountain biker Paul Basagoitia and his career with videography (he owns iRelevent Media, a photography and cinematography company) inadvertently kickstarted a new project.
“Back in 2015 I was at the Red Bull Rampage, which is a big mountain free ride event for mountain biking and I was there with one of my friends and colleagues, Paul Basagoitia. I’ve known him since 2011, he was one of my clients, I did a lot of filming for him,” Pavelka explained. “We kind of documented when we went to this Red Bull Rampage event, he was in it, so we documented the whole thing just for him and we were going to make a fun video out of it and at the event he crashed and became paralyzed, which is the whole premise of the film.”
The Red Bull Rampage is an intense and gritty biking event, where mountain bikers and their teams create their own trails for the race.
“The event is out in the middle of Utah right near Zion National Park, so it is the big tall mountains with the crazy spine ridges on them and you build a line (trail) from the starting gate all the way to the bottom, and each rider has two to three builders and you have two weeks to build your line,” Pavelka said.
Basagoitia had participated in the event the year before, so racing on the trail wasn’t unusual, however, the year he crashed, he was going down the first couple of runs and gained too much speed on a wide drop and was thrown sideways off of a 10-foot cliff, and landed on his back.
“There was a really big drop that we built for him that he never really had time to test, so this was his first time hitting it, and it was kind of a windy day and he thought he needed a little bit more speed than what he did. The drop to where he was supposed to land was about 65 feet at a horizontal angle and he had taken it to about 95 feet and when he did that, when he landed, he had too much speed to make his next chute and his pedal ended up hitting a bush and it threw him sideways and threw him off a 10-foot cliff. He was probably doing 25 mph and he landed directly on his back onto a pointy rock and that is what ended up paralyzing him,” Pavelka recalled.
Despite wearing all of the necessary pads, including knee pads, a full-face helmet and a back protector, the rock penetrated right through his armor.
After undergoing a nine-hour long surgery at a hospital in Colorado, Basagoitia started to self-document what he was going through and Pavelka lended a helping hand.
“He was at the hospital in Colorado for a month and a half trying to recover and when he got sent back home I drove up to Reno where he lives and we started documenting and filming everything, not even for the purpose of a big documentary, we were just doing it for him so we could self-document because when he was in the hospital he was doing the same thing for himself, self-filming, just so he could put something together for himself and for others just to show what it is like to have a spinal cord injury,” Pavelka said.
And then in mid 2016, Red Bull decided to pick up the footage and make a documentary out of it.
“With that, they asked Paul if he had footage and we had actually filmed a lot of stuff, so Red Bull contacted me and asked if it was OK to use the footage of Paul that I had taken, for their documentary,” Pavelka said, noting that he had about 20 minutes of his own footage of Basagoitia.
All of the proceeds from the film went to spinal cord research and later that year, HBO purchased the film.
While the film centers around Basagoitia as the main character, it also follows the story of several other individuals who experienced spinal cord injuries.
“The biggest thing that comes to mind when people hear about a professional biker that becomes paralyzed is that everyone says, ‘Oh well, they knew they had that coming…’ and I think what Red Bull wanted to portray was that a spinal cord injury can really happen to anyone,” Pavelka said.
He pointed to examples in the film where one woman got a spinal cord injury from giving birth and another person who dived into a pool became paralyzed.
“It really opens everyone’s eyes and it is really cool because it captures not just the people that are interested in sports, it captures the attention of every person,” he said. “It is super, super raw and it is a documentary not meant for everyone to watch, but it kind of gives you the day-to-day life of what happens when you have a spinal cord injury, starting from day one of going into surgery all the way to having to deal with a catheter, having to deal with trying to learn how to walk again and the struggles of falling down and getting back up.”
Pavelka said everyone should at least try to watch it.
“It is the only injury you can get that they still have no cure for,” he said.
Getting nominated for the golden statue
The Sports Emmys is just like the regular Emmys, except it is all about recognizing sports related films and documentaries. “Any One of Us” was nominated for “outstanding long sports documentary” and “outstanding editing.”
“I actually found out from Paul. He called me and said, ‘Guess what I got some cool news for you.’ I asked him, ‘Let me guess, you can completely walk without your canes,’ and said, ‘I wish, but the film got nominated for two Sports Emmys,” Pavelka said.
The award show was scheduled for April 28, however it was postponed due to COVID-19.
Pavelka may not know when they will receive the results, but he does know that the nomination “feels pretty awesome.”
“I can’t take full responsibility since I was only a small part in this whole documentary, but it is still really awesome to be a part of it,” Pavelka said.
Pavelka got his start in videography about four years ago after starting his own company, iRelevant Media, and decided that he wanted to focus on video.
“About nine years ago I started my company, but I started mostly as a photographer and about four years into my career I started doing video,” he said.
From weddings to sports and marketing videos, he said he just enjoys capturing moments and helping people.
“I really like video because there is a lot more emotion that you can show in video as opposed to photos,” he said.