Professional mountain biker Paul Basagoitia was at the pinnacle of his profession. He competed with the best in the world, flying down steep terrains and pitching off cliffs in harrowing aerial maneuvers. He traveled widely and is a two-time winner of the prestigious Crankworx competition for slopestyle. But all of this would end in a devastating crash in 2015, leaving the young athlete paralyzed from the waist down.
“It’s absolutely the hardest thing that I have ever faced in my life,” says Basagoitia of his spinal cord injury (SCI). Even though doctors had little hope of him walking again let alone riding a bike, Basagoitia threw himself into recovery, applying the same rigorous athletic discipline he used for training. Today, he’s back on two wheels—not competitively, but recreationally. “I’m very blessed to be able to pedal a bike once again after being paralyzed from the waist down,” says the Nevada native.
His grueling journey, along with others who have spinal cord injuries, is the focal point of a new feature-length documentary—Any One Of Us—which premiered this year at the SXSW Film Festival. Before a recent screening of the film by Red Bull Media House at the Newport Beach Film Festival, Basagoitia, along with his fiancée Nicole Munk, spoke with ABILITY about his injury, the making of the film, and his new position with footwear company Ride Concepts.
Chad Cooper: Do you know the people with spinal cord injuries who were interviewed in the film?
Paul Basagoitia: No. At the time I did not know any of them. But after the film was released I got to meet a few of them, and some of them will be at the screening. I’m looking forward to hanging out with them.
Cooper: Who will be here, do you know?
Basagoitia: I do. Mike, Nate and Toby will be here.
Basagoitia: I’ve met the majority of them, but at the time the film was shot, I didn’t know any of them. But since we had a big premier at SXSW, Mike came down for that, so I got to hang out with him for a few days. And then before that, Red Bull did a private screening at their headquarters, and some of the people came out to watch it and I got to meet them there.
Cooper: Where are their headquarters?
Basagoitia: Santa Monica.
Cooper: Oh, right. A lot of those guys are local. Where do you live?
Basagoitia: We both live in Reno, Nevada.
Cooper: How long have you two been together?
Basagoitia: We’ve been together for almost nine years?
Nicole Munk: Yeah, eight years, nine years.
Cooper: Eight and a half?
Munk: (laughs) Yeah, we don’t know!
Cooper: What do you do?
Munk: I’m a medical assistant and an aesthetician.
Cooper: At what point did you realize that there was going to be something produced beyond your home footage that you made?
Basagoitia: It wasn’t until about a year out. I was documenting the whole progress with my camera. I bought this camera literally the week before I got injured, and then here I was in the ICU, and I see my brand new camera. I didn’t think it was ever going to be a feature film until about a year after the injury. I started documenting my whole progress and the struggle in the ICU. To answer your question, I didn’t know that it would become a feature film until about a year out.
Cooper: How did you come together with Red Bull?
Basagoitia: I’ve always had a good relationship with Red Bull. I was a brand athlete for many years. One of the athlete marketing guys would visit me at the hospital and he would see me document my whole situation. He pitched it to the guys at the Red Bull Media House that, “Hey, Paul’s shooting something, and I think we could come on board and help tell the story and bring a wider awareness to the situation.”
Cooper: Had you known people who had had spinal cord injuries prior?
Basagoitia: I did. But I did not know what they had to go through. I had a lot of friends who had spinal cord injuries, but I never knew what went on behind closed doors. I just knew that obviously you can’t move and you can’t feel, but I never knew the other things that go into a spinal cord injury.
Cooper: Now that you have a disability, what was the biggest surprise for you beyond the therapy?
Basagoitia: What was the biggest surprise about this injury? Losing the control of your bowels and your bladder. I had no idea that that was even possible with this injury. When I was living in that moment, I was so surprised. I had no idea. I remember calling one of my buddies who had a spinal cord injury, and I was like, “This is what you have to go through on a daily basis?” and he was like, “Yeah, man, this is what I go through.” I felt so guilty, so bad about it, because I’d known this guy for 14 years and never knew that that’s what he had to go through.
Cooper: So proceeds from the movie are helping to raise funds for SCI research?
Basagoitia: Right, through Wings for Life, a not-for-profit spinal cord research foundation.
Cooper: Beyond that, what are you thinking about doing connected to—
Basagoitia: —the spinal cord injury community?
Cooper: Yes—volunteerism or anything connected to disabilities?
Basagoitia: My whole goal, obviously, is to raise as much funds as possible with the film and having those funds go directly back to research. It’d be pretty amazing to say I was in charge of funding a clinical trial to find a cure for paralysis. Other than that, on the weekly, I’m always going to the hospital visiting people in the ICU center and talking about spinal cord injuries and letting them know where I was at. And maybe there’s a good chance they can recover as well. Obviously every spinal cord injury is different, but I was so lost, so confused in the beginning that I wish I had had somebody come into the ICU and explain the status and the situation. There’s really no goodness with this injury. I know one of the people who works at the ICU center in my local town, and every time there’s a spinal cord injury person, I’ll go in and chat with them and give them some encouragement and hopefully some words they can feed off of. ...
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