By Barbara Smalley
Four years ago, Foxboro, Massachusetts competitive strongman Justin Sulham was in the midst of a dead lifting event at the Massachusetts State Championship when the nerves in his back exploded. He was rushed to the hospital for emergency surgery, and then spent almost a year recovering—relying on a wheelchair and a walker to get around—and feeling sorry for himself.
His pity party ended, however, when he did a Google search for the words “inspire me,” and found a link to the documentary, Darius Goes West: The Roll of his Life, which stars Athens’ own Darius Weems. “That film was my wake-up call,” says Sulham. “Watching Darius’s story taught me what it really means to be ‘strong,’ and I learned so many valuable lessons about bouncing back from adversity.”
In fact, Sulham vowed that, once fully recovered, he would start using his brute strength to raise awareness of/funds for muscular dystrophy research and other disability-related causes. And he would do this by pulling large objects in front of big crowds. To date, he has raised over $20,000 by pulling semis, airplanes, fire trucks and more—for causes running the gamut from muscular dystrophy and cystic fibrosis, to heart disease and wheelchair-accessible playgrounds.
But those events were just a warm-up, says Sulham, whose dream has been to meet the Athenian who inspired him, Darius Weems, face-to-face—and raise money for the Darius Goes West Foundation.
That dream will come true when Sulham and his crew visit Athens on Friday, August 23 as part of the Ninth Annual Darius Goes West Day(s). That evening, the Foundation will host a drive-in movie night, combined with a mini-carnival, BBQ and auction at Epting Events (1430 N. Chase St.), beginning at 6pm. Before The Goonies plays on the big outdoor screen, Sulham plans to wow the crowd by pulling a fire truck across the parking lot. Another of his (female) crew will do the same with the Darius Goes West van.
Donations of $10 per carload or $5 per walk-in are requested to attend the event, with proceeds benefitting Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) research. DMD is the number one genetic killer of children in the world, the disease that took the life of Darius’ older brother Mario at age 19, and the disease that Darius continues to defy. Every attendee at this event will receive a complimentary DVD of Darius Goes West.
This multi-award-winning film tells the story of Weems, who accompanied by 11 of his best friends (mostly young Athenians) left home for the first time in his life at age 15. He and his rowdy crew set a course for California, where they hoped to convince MTV to customize Darius’ wheelchair on its (then) hit show, “Pimp My Ride.” This band of brothers recorded their 3,000-mile journey on camera, and the resulting documentary subsequently captured 28 film festival awards. Darius and director Logan Smalley have since appeared on ABC Nightline (twice), Ellen DeGeneres, The Today Show, The CBS Early Show and CNN (four times). Darius and his crew have also toured the country three times, logging over 100,000 miles to host screenings and visit middle/high schools and colleges nationwide.
When Darius and his crew first left the Athens courthouse steps in 2005, then Mayor Heidi Davison declared it “Darius Goes West Day.” Every year since, the Darius Goes West Foundation has been celebrating that anniversary. According to Smalley, “Every year, we try to outdo the previous year, and this year, we want the celebration to be larger than life. We think one way we’re accomplishing that is by having Justin Sulham come to town to put on a great show—that will not only make jaws drop but that also symbolizes Darius’ strength and ability to inspire others.”
For more information about this and other events planned for the Ninth Annual Darius Goes West Day(s), visit www.dariusgoeswest.com.