Augie Nieto had it all - he was known as the Steve Jobs of the fitness industry, a fiercely handsome man in impeccable shape with a beautiful wife and riches to boot. He was the first person to popularize the LifeCycle in gyms across the country. He and his high school sweetheart Lynne pretty much had everything you could possibly want by their mid-40's.
In 2005, Augie was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), more commonly known as Lou Gehrig's Disease.
For a man who'd had control of virtually every aspect of his life, a diagnosis with ALS was perhaps the worst possible fate, a fact played out with a suicide attempt not long after his diagnosis. Yet, it was in the hospital with a body that couldn't respond but a mind that was fully intact that Augie began to realize how immensely loved he was and how incredibly wrong he'd been to believe that suicide was the answer. At that moment, Augie made a decision that for however much time he had left he wanted to surround himself with these people who loved him, a love that hadn't been so much front-and-center in recent years as Augie's marriage had been on the rocks as his obsession with success and riches became the central focus in his life.
ALS changed everything.
It has been twelve years since Augie was diagnosed with a disease that usually proves fatal within 2-3 years. Yet, in some strange way it is true that ALS may have actually been what saved Augie's life. After initially struggling with the diagnosis, Augie and Lynne began putting their lives back together and Augie and Lynne have become fundraising powerhouses searching for a cure for ALS with their friends and business colleagues supporting them all the way. To date, they have raised over $55 million that directly funds scientific research for ALS.
Winner of the Audience Award for Documentary Feature at the Nashville Film Festival, Augie will resonate most deeply with those who appreciate overcoming bordering on high inspiration films. Augie is likely to resonate least with those who've seen other ALS-themed documentaries or simply those who resist what the disabled community refers to as "inspiration porn," a line Augie doesn't always cross but a line that the film does cross just often enough to be overly noticeable to this lifelong paraplegic/double amputee who's also living 30+ years past his life expectancy.
Hey, that's me.
Augie is the kind of film that plays well on the festival scene and it's clear that director James Keach, director of the Oscar-nominated Glen Campbell doc I'll Be Me, is a gifted documentarian even if the film, plain and simple, wasn't meant for someone overly familiar with many of its themes. Scheduled to screen at the Austin Film Festival after its Heartland appearance, Augie seems destined to find an indie distribution deal with its audience friendly, life-affirming story brought to life in the expressive face but motionless body of the man who seemingly lost it all only to discover that, just perhaps, he'd really gained it all back.