Film crew spreads word about illness

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Less than four years ago, 15-year-old Darius Weems had never left Athens, Ga.

Now, at 19, he is traveling around the country sharing the story of his battle with a serious disease through the documentary Darius Goes West. It chronicles his road trip in the summer of 2005 from Athens to California with his friends, whom he refers to as "the crew," on a mission to get his wheelchair customized on MTV's Pimp My Ride. Though he didn't get his wheelchair "pimped," another mission emerged.

"We accomplished the goal of going to different places, but what we did along the way was even more important to me," said Mr. Weems, who has Duchenne muscular dystrophy. "Along the way, we would share information about the disease and what they could do to help. The bigger purpose became educating people."

According to the Muscular Dystrophy Association, Duchenne muscular dystrophy is caused by the absence of dystrophin, a protein that helps keep muscle cells intact. Survival past the early 30s is rare.

Among Mr. Weems' crew was Logan Smalley, a friend of Mr. Weems' older brother, Mario, who also had the disease and died at 19.

"Before Mario passed away, he asked me that if anything happened to him, that I would take care of his little brother," said Mr. Smalley, who directed the film. "It's been my goal to this day to honor that request."

He has been doing that by helping Mr. Weems get his message out across the country, setting out on another road trip earlier this year to show the documentary.

This time, it's an initiative to sell 1 million copies to raise money for Charley's Fund, a nonprofit organization that distributes money worldwide for Duchenne research.

Mr. Weems and his crew attended a screening of the documentary Tuesday that drew nearly 250 people at Augusta State University.

He said he hoped those who viewed the film would walk away encouraged.

"It's important to not look at life for what it is, but what it could be if you set your mind to accomplish something," he said. "You can't let your circumstances get you down. You have to get out and do something about it."

For more information on Mr. Weems' mission, or to purchase a DVD, visit www.dariusgoeswest.org.

Reach Nikasha Dicks at (706) 823-3336 or nikasha.dicks@augustachronicle.com.


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