By Lexie Avery, contributor
Diagnosed with Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a disease that will eventually lead to his early death, Darius had never left his hometown of Athens, Georgia due to the struggle it was to get around. Despite this fact, Darius was a bright and happy boy even when the reality of his situation was much more heartbreaking than even he would let onto.
Everything changed for Darius when he attended Project REACH, a camp that strives to give new experiences to children with disabilities. Darius made many new friends at the camp and sometimes felt like a counselor because people naturally gravitated toward him. Project REACH is where Darius’s journey began.
Logan Smalley, a counselor at the camp, first met Darius through Darius’s brother Mario (who was also born with Duchenne muscular dystrophy). Before Mario died, he asked Logan to look after his brother—a promise that Logan embraced. This promise changed Darius’s life forever.
Darius dreamed of having his wheelchair refurbished by MTV’s Pimp My Ride. After reading a letter that Darius had written to the show, Logan decided that—with a core group of their friends—they would travel cross-country to Los Angeles, where the taping of Pimp My Ride occurred. This group of friends named their adventure the “Darius Goes West Project.” Because of Logan’s previous experiences at the camp, he recognized the need to document all of the amazing memories that the boys were going to encounter—especially all of Darius’s firsts.
In one of the most heartwarming documentaries I have ever seen, Darius experiences what’s outside of Athens, Georgia for the first time. He feels the ocean for the first time;
he sees the bat caves at a National Park in New Mexico. He travels to the Grand Canyon and Las Vegas, enjoys a hot air balloon ride, and visits the San Diego Zoo and Sea World. Along the journey, his friends take care of him in the day-to-day manner that he requires.
Darius’s request to have his wheelchair refurbished and “pimped” was ultimately denied, but the journey was about so much more than his wheelchair. The film is dedicated to Darius’s brother Mario, who was never able to experience the things that Darius now had. More than anything, this film shows the love and compassion that Darius and his friends had for one another. It also shows the drive that they had to make a difference and spread the word about Duchenne muscular dystrophy.
All proceeds for the movie go to Charley’s Fund, a nonprofit designed to invest money in Duchenne muscular dystrophy research. The boys decided to keep the film independent and handle the distribution themselves because that way they knew that the money would go directly into research. By June 2009, the film had raised 2 million dollars for research. This total shocked the filmmakers, but it continues to grow as Darius shares his story.
Now that Darius is older, he has a new passion—becoming a successful rapper. He knows that life for him will continue to be difficult but his zest for life is so inspiring. Besides wanting to be a rapper, Darius writes about what’s important in his life.
As Darius works on his album he continues to be a spokesperson for the disease that killed his brother. His outlet appears to be through his music.
When I saw this documentary, I felt very emotional watching Darius experience things for the first time. Realizing that his brother wasn’t able to, Darius seized the day and made a nation watch and see how a young man and a group of his friends can make a difference and spread the word. Darius continues to fight for his life every single day and is even brave enough to be a research patient for a possible cure to Duchenne. I feel truly blessed to have been able to see this documentary and am so proud of the work and dedication that a group of teenagers made to a cause that mattered to their hearts.