The home movies look ordinary at first: the adorable child is playing, then looking to make sure mom or dad is watching.
"Dad, can you see me walking?" the cherubic Mason Newbold asks in Newbold family home movies from 1996. The youngster is moving himself in a wheelchair. Mason's face is beaming; your heart is breaking.
But pity isn't allowed in Mason's life, nor in the 90-minute locally made documentary "Hockey Courage," an inspirational look into the lives of Mason, from Lockport, and Adam Page, of Lancaster. Both were born with spina bifida, a birth defect in which the spinal cord is exposed. Today, the lifelong friends share their love for playing sled hockey and, as the documentary emphasizes, enjoying normal teen activities like learning to drive and playing sports.
Directed with a clearly admirable and respectful touch by John M. Hannon, a University at Buffalo professor, the documentary allows viewers to get to know Mason and Adam, as well as their families who have played such a big role in their lives. Interviews at the rink and in their homes are interspersed with a multitude of photos and video from family functions, sporting events and the early years at the hospital.
Medical experts discuss spina bifida, explaining as best they can without getting too technical or emotional. The emotions are higher as Mason matter-of-factly discusses his surgeries and the shunt in his head (replaced multiple times), and as Norm Page, Adam's father, tears up as he shares the early choices they were given for Adam (undergo operations or watch him die).
The documentary quietly changes course as we learn about the growth of the USA sled hockey program and watch prospects in the first series of tryouts for the 2014 Paralympic team. Adam played on the gold medal-winning 2010 Paralympic team; Mason didn't, but has been working diligently to improve himself. (The documentary spends a tad bit too much time telling us of Mason's shortcomings -- he's a bit too slow, not bulky enough, etc.)
We quickly feel for all the prospects, even those we don't know. The tension is palpable on their faces as they wait to learn if they made the team; expect to feel a knot in your stomach as Mason wheels himself into the room to learn his fate.
"Hockey Courage" is the perfect name for this film that illustrates, through hockey, the determination and, yes, courage, that has guided these two young role models. We could all learn from them.
3 stars (out of 4)
DIRECTOR: John Hannon
RUNNING TIME: 90 minutes
RATING: Unrated, but G equivalent for no offensive material.
THE LOWDOWN: Documentary on the lives of local sled hockey players Mason Newbold and Adam Page who were born with spina bifida.