REGIONAL- “The town of Tower was instrumental in my recovery,” said Jason Goulet. “They helped. It wasn’t just me.”It was 30 years ago in August that an errant hit …
REGIONAL- “The town of Tower was instrumental in my recovery,” said Jason Goulet. “They helped. It wasn’t just me.”
It was 30 years ago in August that an errant hit during a high school football scrimmage left Jason Goulet with a broken neck and a prognosis that he would never walk again.
Jason reflects back on his injury and recovery in a short film made for this year’s Easter Seals Film Challenge.
“It’s always been a father-son story,” said Jason. “The dynamic is so powerful.”
On Aug. 25, 1990, 17-year old Jason was the quarterback on the Golden Eagles football team coached by his father, Tom Goulet. During a scrimmage against a neighboring school, Jason took a hit, immediately hit the ground, and realized he couldn’t feel his legs. His father was on the field in an instant. Jason was taken by ambulance to a hospital in Duluth. His father, who was also the Tower-Soudan High School principal, would not coach the football team again.
Jason was a student athlete, playing football, basketball, and baseball, and excelling in each. His life since he was a young child had revolved around sports.
“I felt like it was etched in my DNA,” he said.
Jason was told that the injury, broken vertebrae in his neck, meant he would never walk. But not one to take defeat easily, Jason took this as a challenge, and by Christmas he was taking his first steps.
The community also stepped up with fundraisers and long-term support for Jason and his family.
By the time his high school graduation came around, he walked slowly and steadily from one end of the stage to the other to collect his diploma, with the entire audience holding their breath. His father was on stage with a smile as wide “as if he had just won the state football championship,” Jason said.
Jason’s journey then led him to New Jersey, where he did intensive rehabilitation work, and eventually out to California, first to San Diego, and then to Los Angeles.
“I live in North Hollywood,” he said, “right by Universal Studios.”
Jason has dreamed about working in the entertainment business since he moved to California over 25 years ago.
“You never see people with disabilities on television or in films,” he said. “My friends urged me to take acting classes.”
But Jason liked the idea of working behind the scenes and has worked to get more representation of people with disabilities both on screen and on the production end.
“But the opportunities are few and far between,” he said.
He does keep a close eye on the industry, works for an entertainment law firm, and has worked as a writer, actor, and producer on short films.
With a friend, Pat Battistini, who has a host of credits both in front of and behind the camera, he has collaborated on projects including an entry in last year’s Easter Seals challenge, which earned top-ten honors.
This year, with stay-at-home orders, the film challenge was, well, more of a technical challenge.
“My friend Pat said let’s do your story,” Jason said. “I told him that it was 30 years ago.”
But after talking it over, Jason decided to put a film together focusing in the relationship between him and his father, and the accident that changed both of their lives in an instant.
“This year we had to do everything remotely,” he said. “I never even met the film editor.”
Jason, with the help of friends, wrote the script, and interviewed himself. His parents, who now live in Wyoming, Minn., filmed themselves using their phones, answering questions raised by Jason.
The film raised some old fears. Jason’s mother, Kathy, has never seen the video of Jason’s last run on the field, filmed on grainy, 30-year-old home video equipment. That clip was going to be part of the film.
“To this day, my mom has not seen the accident,” he said.
“The editor did a good job,” Jason said. “Technology is just crazy. We made the film without being in one place. We used Zoom meetings to discuss how to put it all together. It took five days.”
Jason said he hopes his film, along with the 90 others entered in the film challenge this year, will help society understand the challenges faced by those with disabilities, and will also provide more opportunities for talented disabled people to get work in the television and film industries.
“One out of five people have a disability,” he said, “you just don’t always see it.”
Jason would like to see more disabled characters being played by actors with disabilities.
“We are seeing a few more,” he said. “Some of my friends have made television appearances.”
Life in the pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic has not been easy for those with disabilities.
“For almost 30 years, my life has been therapy, therapy, therapy,” he said. “But right now, the risk it too high and all my therapy has been canceled.”
The pandemic also closed down gyms and the pool at his apartment complex, leaving Jason to do the best he can at home.
“A therapist can really push you and help you stretch,” he said. “But everyone is trying to be safe.”
Life in LA has also become a bit boring. Jason said he is jealous of his parents, who can leave their house and go for a walk without having to worry about seeing other people. For him, the streets are still crowded, and not a safe place to be.
“Nothing is open,” he said, “and our restaurants are all closed.”
Southern California is now the worst hot spot for coronavirus in the country, which means Jason has to be extra careful. He works mostly from home, going into his office twice a week in the evenings when the office is empty, to take care of the work he can’t do from home. But his job has also slowed down.
“There is no entertainment going on,” he said. “Projects have all been pushed back.”
COVID-19 has also meant no family visits or vacation trips.
“This is usually my favorite time of year,” he said, “I usually head back to Minnesota to visit family.”
One of his sisters lives near his parents, and the other is near Tower, in Virginia. But Jason said while he has been to Virginia quite often, he hadn’t made it back to Tower in quite a few years.
Summer is also a time when Jason likes to pack up his car and go on an adventure. Last year he visited the Grand Canyon.
“It reminds me how thankful I am that I can travel on my own,” he said, “but also how challenging it is to be a person with a disability.”
His trip two years ago to San Francisco was not nearly as fun.
“It was just miserable,” he said. “The hills…I couldn’t even push my wheelchair around.”
The trips help him realize how much work still needs to be done to make the world more accessible to those with disabilities.
The ADA (American Disabilities Act) was passed in 1990, the same year he was injured.
“We are still fighting to be included 30 years later,” he said.
“My local post office is not accessible,” he said. “I can’t get into the building. I have to go ring a bell in the back to get help.”
The film has also been a way to reconnect with old high school friends, with many of his Tower-Soudan classmates reaching out to him this week.
“I’ve had nothing but positive feedback about the video,” he said, “and I’m thinking about how to expand it into a movie.”
The Easter Seals Disability Film Challenge
View the film Pushing the Boundaries today on YouTube.
This is the sixth year that Easter Seals has sponsored this documentary challenge, focusing on people with disabilities, their challenges, and their victories. Films can only be five minutes long. Awards are given in three categories this year, including one for the film that gets the most exposure (views). You can view the film online at YouTube.com here. Alternatively, search for the YouTube video using the terms Jason Goulet Easter Seals, or look on Facebook by searching for Jason Goulet. Jason hopes people can share the video widely on social media between now and Aug. 2, when judging begins. You can find out more about the video challenge at www.disabilityfilmchallenge.com.