Ultratriathlon Documentary Short Celebrates Amputee Athletic Triumph
Nicole Ver Kuilen is an amputee athlete who challenges herself to swim, bike, and run from Seattle to San Diego. She has the endurance and passion to make it to the end.
The biggest question is: will her prosthesis survive the journey?
16 years after the amputation of her left leg, Nicole Ver Kuilen challenges herself to complete a 1500 mile triathlon from Seattle to San Diego. For Nicole, the most difficult part of this journey is not the distance – she has the endurance and will to overcome any athletic feat. Her biggest challenge is that her insurance-mandated prosthesis is built only for walking. The further she pushes herself – 100-mile rides, 8,000-foot climbs, and an open water swim under the Golden Gate Bridge – the greater the damage to her prosthesis and, more importantly, her health. As she closes in on the finish line, Nicole questions whether or not pursuing her athletic dreams is worth the cost.
Nicole has founded Forrest Stump as a nonprofit advocacy organization with a mission to expand access to prosthetic technology and care for all amputees.
“1500 Miles:” Ultra-triathlon Documentary Short Celebrates Amputee Athletic Triumph
Film Honored by Eleven International Film Festivals
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE — A film chronicling the accomplishments of 28-year-old amputee/ultratriathlete Nicole Ver Kuilen, in which she and a support team of three additional women complete a two-month, 1500-mile triathlon from Seattle to San Diego, has been honored by eleven leading film festivals.
The film premiered at Taos Shortz Film Fest (Taos, NM) in March 2019, where it was awarded Best Documentary. The film has subsequently been screened at Sonoma International Film Festival (Sonoma, CA; March), SOHO International Film Festival (New York, NY; June), Nevertheless Film Festival (Ann Arbor, MI; July), Indy Shorts International Film Festival (Indianapolis, IN; July), ReelAbilities Pittsburgh (Pittsburgh, PA; September), BendFilm Festival (Bend, OR; October), an encore screening at the Heartland International Film Festival (Indianapolis, IN; October), Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival (Hot Springs, AR; October), FirstGlance Film Festival Philadelphia (Philadelphia, PA; November), and the St. Louis International Film Festival (St. Louis, MO; November).
The ultra-triathlon event was undertaken to call attention to the discrimination against aspiring amputee athletes who are denied coverage for specialized prosthetic devices by insurance companies, allegedly to cut costs. However, the health care costs for the nation’s 2.1 million amputees account for less than 1% of total health care costs.
“Importantly, Director Chris Duncan also captures a sense of the additional challenges which Nicole, as an amputee had to overcome in order to achieve such an accomplishment,” noted Larry Landis, Executive Producer, himself an amputee who lost his lower left leg to an opportunistic infection at the age of 71.
“This 1,500 mile journey was the biggest athletic feat I’ve ever attempted,” Ver Kuilen said. “I faced the same challenges any able-bodied athlete would – fatigue, pain, even fear. But doing it on a prosthesis built only for walking meant I was putting my health and mobility at risk.”
It is common for insurance companies to deny coverage of specialized sport-specific prosthetic devices to amputees seeking to rebuild and mainstream their lives through athletic competition. They claim that a “walking prosthesis” is the maximum that is “medically necessary,” often denying amputees the opportunity to aspire to participate in sports, or to regain near-“normal” mobility.
“It’s telling when aspiring amputee athletes must resort to ‘Go Fund Me’ in order to raise the funds necessary to obtain state-of-the-art prostheses and to pay for competitions, let alone improve their quality of life,” said Landis.
Ver Kuilen was diagnosed with bone cancer and underwent a below-the-knee amputation of her left leg at the age of 10. After recovering from the aftereffects of chemotherapy, and rehabilitating from the surgery, she resumed athletic activities, employing suboptimal prosthetic devices, while continuing to unsuccessfully battle her insurance provider.
In virtually every respect, Nicole pursued a “normal” life, graduating from the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business with High Distinction and starting a business career. Eventually, however, she became so frustrated with the stonewalling of insurance providers that she quit her job and founded Forrest Stump, the nonprofit advocacy organization targeting health insurance fairness and supporting the dreams of other “disabled” athletes.
“Being an athlete is a core part of my identity. Sport gives me independence, social connections, and empowers me to achieve more. I don’t understand why the health care community supports able-bodied athletes, but doesn’t support athletes like me,” Ver Kuilen added.
The film is a co-production of Snowday, the lead production company, and Forrest Stump.
The film was conceived when Ver Kuilen met director Duncan, a filmmaker at Snowday. Both graduates of the University of Michigan, Nicole and Chris bonded over their love for triathlon and passion for making a difference. Chris notes that it was because of a short film about the Paralympics called “Meet the Superhumans,” that he was first inspired to become a filmmaker.
NICOLE VER KUILEN - STATEMENT
This 1,500 mile journey was the biggest athletic feat I had ever attempted. I faced the same challenges any able-bodied athlete would – fatigue, pain, even fear. But doing it on a prosthesis built only for walking meant I was putting my health and mobility at risk. I had to ask myself: at what point should I give up on my goals to be a better athlete?
But, being an athlete is a core part of my identity. Sport gives me independence, social connections, and empowers me to achieve more. I don’t understand why the health care community supports able-bodied athletes, but doesn’t support athletes like me.
DIRECTOR CHRIS DUNCAN - STATEMENT
When I look at Nicole, I see what it means to be an athlete. Nicole risks everything to challenge herself with sport. She’s not after the medals or the recognition, she just loves – more than anything – the challenge of putting one foot in front of the other. Being an athlete is who she is.
Nicole’s story inspires athletes and amputees to push beyond their perceived limitations. As Nicole says, “your limitations are only set by what your mind sets for you.” And yet, the truth is some limitations cannot be overcome alone. We hope this film will spread awareness about the barriers to prosthetic technology that so many amputees face and inspire viewers to call for change in America’s healthcare system.
Nicole Ver Kuilen
Co-Founder, Forrest Stump
Nicole lost her left leg below the knee to bone cancer at age 10 and has made it her life’s goal to expand access to prosthetic technology for all amputees.
Co-Founder, Forrest Stump
Kathleen is Nicole’s training partner. While training for her first half marathon with Nicole, Kathleen became aware of the discriminatory practices in our health care system and how amputees were being left on the sideline. She also quit her job to help develop Forrest Stump and prepare for the 1,500 mile journey down the coast.
Co-Founder, Forrest Stump
Natalie is a Certified Prosthetist & Orthotist (CPO) and built Nicole’s prosthesis. As a former collegiate athlete, Natalie knows the importance of sport in building strong, healthy, and confident individuals. She wants all amputees to have the same opportunity to compete, and that’s why she helped found Forrest Stump.
When Nicole was diagnosed with cancer, her mom dropped everything to be there for her. She dropped everything again to join her daughter on this important journey.
Director & Executive Producer
Chris is an award-winning commercial director and partner at Snowday Studio. He’s excited to say that this is his first short film. Nicole’s story is particularly close to him, since it was a short film about the Paralympics called, “Meet the Superhumans,” that inspired him to start making films. It’s a story about the superhuman ability of Paralympic athletes, and after getting to know Nicole, he believes in that idea more than ever. He hopes this film shows the athletic potential of amputees in a way most people never thought possible.
Jess is an independent filmmaker based in beautiful Brooklyn. Prior to producing 1500 Miles she produced a series about a dreamer who ran across America called Run Carlos Run, and co-directed / produced We Were Strangers, a feature that traveled around the country collecting and sharing the stories of strangers. Basically she’s mastered indie travel / athletic / cause filmmaking.
Larry is a fellow amputee and knows firsthand the struggles in accessing appropriate prosthetic technology. He’s a Lead Advocate with the Amputee Coalition, where he helps push the legislative agenda in the state of Indiana. Larry is also a film fanatic and supporter of the Heartland Film Festival. When he met Nicole and heard about 1500 Miles, he knew he had to be part of this incredible journey.
Danger is a filmmaker based in San Francisco. He’s worked on countless projects in the Bay Area and Los Angeles. Most often, he finds himself in the camera department. For this project, he was excited to put the skills he acquired living out of his truck for a year to use.
On behalf of our entire team, thank you for helping us share this story with as broad an audience as possible. With your support, our film will not only showcase the achievements of an athlete and the challenges of an amputee; it will open people’s minds to how we think about both.