On June 13th 2017 André Kajlich was the first person to hand cycle coast to coast in the Race Across America. His journey is featured in Joyrider, a documentary directed by Clare Kramer (Glory, Buffy the Vampire Slayer & Courtney, Bring it On). Joyrider chronicles the journey of the first and only handcyclist to qualify for the grueling 3,000-mile, 12-day race crossing 12 states. The film captures the true athleticism and history making drive of this para-triathlete as he triumphs over his double leg amputation. In this one-on-one interview, Kramer explains her passion and the challenges she and her team faced in creating Joyrider.
What prompted you to direct this documentary?
Clare Kramer: Joyrider is this amazing story of André Kajlich, a wheelchair athlete and double amputee who lost his legs in 2003. He became this crazy endurance athlete—a double IronMan—doing 400-mile bike rides in one day. He spent the last three years training for Race Across America. This year, he qualified, so we packed up our camera crew and followed him and his crew from Oceanside, California to Annapolis, Maryland in 12 days. He broke hand-cycling records, world records, basically every record you could imagine. It’s such an inspirational story. He’s also a relatable person. So that’s what I really love about the André Kajlich story and being able to tell it through the canvas of the race.
How did you hear about André Kajlich?
Clare: His sister Bianca Kajlich and I were in the movie Bring it On together. So I knew Andre before his accident and after. They’re an amazing family, and Bianca is one of the producers as well as Gregg Grunberg, and Buffy alum Jonathan Woodward.
Have you ever participated in any marathon events?
Clare: I’ve done a couple of triathlons and 10K road races. But marathons are not on my bucket list.
What impressed you most about André Kajlich?
Clare: He is relatable in that he represents what people go through when they have to overcome something that could be a big hindrance in their life. I was also drawn to the fact that he’s not like a Tony Robbins. He’s a real guy. He’s funny. He’s smart. He has a real job and he doesn’t even have a coach. He’s completely self-trained and self motivated. It’s just a very interesting story. As an artist, you want to effect change in the world. And that’s the ultimate goal for me. By sharing Andre’s story, I really feel it will benefit many others.
What did you find most challenging about directing Joyrider?
Clare: We were on the road following André for the 12 days. So we had no home base. We were managing five to eight cameras at a time for 22 hours a day. We never stopped to rest. Our team tried to assign day and night crews. We were sleeping in the van that followed Andre and often got no sleep. We also had a lot of media management.
Were you with André every mile?
Clare: Yes. But I was riding in the car, so it was easy to handle. He inspired me in many ways.
What did you learn about para-athletes that surprised you?
Clare: I don’t know if I was necessarily surprised about para-athletes. But what surprised me about hand cycling in general was that it wasn’t a refined sport. If you look at the bikes used on the tour de France or other big pro bike races, they’re so far ahead technologically. Two days before André’s race, they were wiring an electronic shifter on his bike because there’s never been one on a hand cycle. So they outfitted two of his four bikes with an electronic shifter. It was really a game changer for him and it made a big difference in his time. André has no femur bone on his right side and just eight inches of femur on his left side. He was originally told he would never sit again, but now he’s walking with prosthetics. So when he sits in the bucket of his bike, he inserts his own hand cut pieces of foam to protect him from getting sores. I wasn’t expecting that and that’s part of the story’s appeal. He bought his first hand cycle on craigslist for $150. He showed up at the challenge athlete’s foundation in San Diego and entered one of their triathlons not knowing a soul. The story is so more than an inspirational sports story, or a man losing his legs. It’s a story about life. About what you do in those moments and how you define yourself.
So what’s next for you? Will you be doing more inspirational or other types of documentaries?
Clare: That’s a good question. I’m currently going through weeks of Joyrider footage. It takes a while to sync up the sound to see what we have. I absolutely will do more documentaries. I’m also interested in directing features. I’m a glutton for punishment, so I’d probably do an emotional drama. That said, if it’s material I respond to with good people involved, I’m always open to explore that. But right now I’ve found a certain genre that interests me and I want to tackle that a few more times before I move on.
Switching gears: Do you keep in contact with any of the Buffy cast?
Clare: Oh my gosh, yes. If you follow my Instagram, you’ll know that Julie and Charisma are two of my best friends. I also keep in touch with Emma, Summer Glau, Amber Benson, and Mercedes McNab. The Joss Whedon group has become so close, not because of the show but because of these conventions. The fan community and the actors have found that support amongst themselves.
What was it like prepping for the cheer work on Bring it On?
Clare: That was such a fun film. We shot it down here in San Diego. It was Peyton Reed’s feature debut, who has since gone on to direct Ant Man and other big budget movies. But we were a bunch of teenagers who didn’t know what we were doing, living in a hotel by ourselves, getting paid and having fun. It was a fantastic experience.
Did you take part in the actual cheer routines?
Clare: Oh yeah, during the auditions, we had to show we could do some cheers. They sent us to a four-week cheerleading boot camp. If you didn’t perform up to par, you were fired.