Bimini , Bahamas A recent visit to Bimini by three world-class athletes cast in an adventure documentary produced life-changing firsts for all of them.
Olympic swimming’s 2012 quadruple gold medalist Missy Franklin, 17, of Centennial, Colo., became certified as an open-water scuba diver. The 2011 NCAA wrestling champion Anthony Robles, 24, of Phoenix — born with one leg —also earned his scuba certification in his first-ever trip to the ocean, all the while surrounded by Caribbean reef sharks. And Mallory Weggeman, 24, of Glendora, Calif., who scored a gold medal in swimming in the 2012 Paralympic Games, made her first ocean dive since becoming paralyzed five years ago, and swam with friendly dolphins.
The three are among seven stars of a new movie called The Current. produced and directed by Kurt Miller of Make a Hero Films. Miller — son of famed ski documentary filmmaker Warren Miller — and partner Peter Speek are planning to release it in time for this summer’s Sundance Film Festival in their home state of Colorado.
“It’s all about the healing powers of the ocean, which I believe in 100 percent,” Miller said. “You have to change people’s perceptions about people with disabilities. Yes, life has changed, but it’s still a fruitful life. I want someone with a disability to see this and know their life is not over. I hope it gives them inspiration to go out and do what they did before. My goal is to have the film seen by everybody.”
Besides Bimini, The Current will be shot in Cozumel, Mexico – known for scenic drift dives in strong ocean currents—and the Kingdom of Tonga in the South Pacific, where humpback whales gather in the summer months. Miller said Bimini was chosen as a location because of the presence of wild Atlantic spotted dolphins, which frequently mingle with snorkelers.
The Current is the second nonprofit film shot by Miller and Speek. Their first, The Movement, featured disabled skiers and has been viewed in theaters, on television and DVD around the world.
“It’s telling the stories of people who have overcome their disabilities in such a profound way that they are heroes,” Speek said. “We take someone who is already a hero and teach them to do something for the first time.”
The filmmakers said Franklin was asked to join the cast because of her star power and her commitment to promoting disabled athletes.
Franklin, who spent about a week filming in Bimini accompanied by her parents, called the experience “awesome.”
“So beautiful, a whole different world,” she said of Bimini’s underwater environment. “I wish more people were able to do it. It gives you more of an appreciation for nature and what we have.”
During breaks in filming and scuba sessions, Franklin worked out daily in a pool. She said learning to scuba dive helped her swim training.
“It made me more aware of my breathing,” she said. “It’s interesting to think about. It’s cool to have both views of it.”
Franklin said she is looking forward to taking a weeklong live-aboard dive trip someday with her dad Dick, a longtime scuba diver.
Weggeman became a certified diver when she was 15 but left the sport after becoming paralyzed from a hospital injection for back pain at 18. Instead, she took up competitive swimming and won gold in the 50-meter freestyle at last summer’s London Paralympics. After refresher dives with an instructor in a pool and then the open ocean a couple weeks ago, Weggeman went scuba diving off Bimini with her dad and sister.
“It’s been absolutely amazing to share it with my family,” she said. “I can get in the pool or the ocean and do what anyone else is doing. We all have something that can hold us back. I’m hoping what we can do with the movie is to look at the ability within yourself.”
For Robles, who has pinned the nation’s best college wrestlers using only one leg, learning to scuba dive represented a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and a new challenge.”
On his first plunge into the ocean, Robles says his biggest fear was encountering sharks. As luck would have it, he and his instructor and dive buddy were surrounded by the toothy predators.
“Six sharks — the only thing I didn’t want to see on the first dive,” he said. “I was freaking out at first. When I saw the sharks weren’t too interested in us, it was pretty cool just how easily they moved around, so slow and gentle, the power behind them.”
Robles said he intends to keep diving — “a really neat hobby I’ve hooked into.”
Many of these vignettes likely will find their way into The Current, Miller said.
“Putting the best people in front of the camera helps me tell my story,” he said. “With this film, I can change a mind and/or a life forever.”
To learn more about The Current , go to MakeaHero.org.