Darius Goes West: The Inspiring Story of Darius Weens

Approximately one in 3,500 boys are born with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, and most kids with the disease die by their late teens or early 20’s. The inspiring story of Darius Weens, a boy with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, was shown last Sunday evening at 6:30 p.m. in Kemper Auditorium. “I was really moved by the movie,” said Rachel Cohen ’08. “I’m actually working at a camp for disabled kids this summer in Minnesota, so seeing the movie reinforced my excitement about going west myself and making some kids smile.” Turnout was impressive. While quite a few individuals decided to come because the documentary sounded interesting, many were just as intrigued by the announcement that there would be cookies, hot cocoa and, best of all, sushi. Chad Green, Director of Community Service, made the opening remarks, and Lucy Bidwell ’09 introduced Logan Smalley, the director. A graduate of the University of Georgia, Smalley made a speech and ended by saying to the audience, “[Like we did in making the movie], you give Darius a voice, too. A movie like this needs an audience to spread the word.” “Darius Goes West” is the tale of Darius Weens, a 15-year-old black male from Athens, Georgia with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, a disease that confined him to a wheelchair and will ultimately cause his death. At the start of the summer of 2005, he set off in a wheelchair-friendly RV with a group of 11 friends. The gang took an eventful road trip from Athens to the Pacific Ocean and back. During one scene in the movie, Darius’ friends bet him $10 to eat a spoonful of wasabi. So after the show, four Phillips Academy students from the audience volunteered to eat a spoonful of wasabi each. Four Phillips Academy alumni promised to donate $1000 to Muscular Dystrophy research per spoon. The students licked their spoons clean. The trip served many purposes. The first was to spread awareness about Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy and to raise money to help scientists discover a cure. The second was so that Darius, whose muscular dystrophy will most likely claim his life by his early 20’s, could see the United Statues before passing away. Another goal was to discover what percentage of America’s stores and attractions are wheelchair accessible. And finally, the group hoped that Darius could get MTV America’s “Pimp My Ride” to pimp his ride. Although “Pimp My Ride” flatly refused to accessorize Darius’ wheelchair, Smalley, Darius and the rest of the crew managed to achieve all of their other objectives. From New Orleans to the Grand Canyon, Darius visited many of the places he’d always dreamed of seeing. There were hardships from the start. For example, the first gas station they stopped at was not wheelchair accessible. But their message spread as they traveled. Soon even actors William H. Macy and Felicity Huffman were going out of their way to meet Darius. “Pitying someone just because they’re in a wheelchair is irrational,” said Smalley near the end of the film. Thankfully, nobody in the caravan even thought to pity Darius. They just treated him like one of the guys, and Darius loved it. It’s impossible to put fully into words the moving quality of the movie. As Los Angeles Times writer Karen Day described it, “Darius Goes West” is “a movie of pain, both physical and emotional, with a message of hope and deep affection for the raw and sweet parts of human nature.” The crowd quieted down soon after the movie’s start and seemed to stir very little until the lights turned back on after the conclusion of the film. All proceeds from “Darius Goes West” go to, a website founded by the parents of a child with muscular dystrophy. The site collects and then donates money to people who are working to discover a cure for muscular dystrophy. Indeed, Smalley told an inquisitive audience member after the show that the best way he could help the cause was to “buy a DVD, and then sell more.” In buying the DVD’s, you donate $15 to Charley’s Fund and spread awareness of the disease itself. Annie Li ’10 said, “I researched DMD for my Bio paper last year, but the disease feels so much more real now that I’ve seen the movie. Now I can see how it affects a real person, instead of just seeing explanations and graphs about the disease.” As Darius said when he came home after his trip, “I’ve seen more stuff than most people will probably see in their lifetime.” In just watching “Darius Goes West,” the audience got to witness a real-life account of someone living beyond the cards he was dealt.