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What I Hope 'Triumph' Starring RJ Mitte Will Teach the World About Disability

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“Mike does not see his disability as a hindrance,” Coach Warren says to Mike’s dad. “He is stronger because of it.”

The above dialogue comes from the new sports-drama movie, “Triumph.” Distributed by Relativity Media, “Triumph” (PG-13) is scheduled to be released on April 30 in 200 Cinemark theaters nationwide and then released on June 15 in the U.S. through various digital platforms, DVD etc.

The movie production is honored to be in partnership with United Cerebral Palsy, which “will be promoting the film to our national and international network of affiliates as well as providing any additional resources possible.”  The production is also grateful to Relativity Media for giving “Triumph” a great fighting chance to win over the hearts of its audiences.

“Triumph” is about a bright and determined high school senior (played by RJ Mitte) who strives one last time to be a wrestler despite having cerebral palsy and goes to extreme lengths, crushing obstacles and inspiring others along his journey to prove his abilities.  The movie is set in the mid-80s and has some totally awesome ‘80s hit songs that emotionally relate to the scenes.

I am the writer and a producer of “Triumph.” My story was inspired by some memories of my youth and high school days growing up with the physical challenges of moderate cerebral palsy. Many of the scenes were inspired by real experiences with my dad, friends, classmates, a coach and my senior English teacher, who I also wrote into my script using her real last name.  So my story is a collection of some of my memories and experiences, both of which I used in varied semi-fictional ways to create a movie that is hopefully highly inspirational, entertaining and enlightening.

I was on a wrestling team for a bit when I was around 10 until I had to quit (probably because of my school). Regrettably, I did not wrestle in high school, but should have tried to help me to fit in, make more friends, etc. During high school, I got into solo weight lifting and my beloved MTV.

“Triumph” stars RJ Mitte (“Breaking Bad”) and Terrence Howard (“Iron Man”) along with other great Hollywood talents such as Colton Haynes (“Arrow”), Johnathon Schaech (“That Thing You Do!”) and Grace Victoria Cox (“Under the Dome”).  The movie was directed by Brett Leonard (“Virtuosity”) and produced by Massimiliano Musina of The MAP Group, Michael Clofine of Digital Ignition Entertainment, and myself. I like writing, casting and producing, and have four different movie projects in the works using my other screenplays.

I am equally proud of my producer credit due to the years of producer work I did to help make “Triumph,” which I started to produce in 2014, hoping to make it in my hometown, beautiful and historic Lawrence, Kansas — home to the University of Kansas. The movie was mostly shot in Nashville in August of 2015, and the remaining scenes were shot in Los Angeles in 2019.  Colton, Grace and RJ were closer to the age of high school seniors when the movie started, but what happened between start to finish due to a conman is actually a wildly compelling story itself that could be made into an entertaining and enlightening documentary or even a true dark-comedy movie.  Making this movie has been a long, wild, twisty and educational journey — a true triumph in itself!

I wrote “Triumph” to not only entertain people, but also to help promote awareness and understanding of cerebral palsy. Some people tend to think they know what they first see, and that automatic pre-judgment can lead to damaging actions such as bullying, discrimination and exclusion of people with cerebral palsy and other disabilities.  Knowledge replaces ignorance.

Cerebral palsy is not a disease. Cerebral palsy (CP) is usually caused by a lack of oxygen to the brain before, during or after birth. In my case, the umbilical cord was wrapped around my neck during my breech birth, causing a lack of oxygen to some areas of my brain that control motor/muscle function. My coordination and speech are affected, but do not hinder me much. I strive to live life to the fullest. From living with extra challenges, I have developed more determination to try to triumph over all challenges I face — to fight the good fight and never give up.

I wanted an actor who has cerebral palsy like myself, so I reached out to RJ Mitte’s representatives and I worked to get RJ on board for the lead role.  In my opinion, RJ could win some awards for his amazing and heartfelt performance in “Triumph.”

In the spirit of “Rudy” and “The Karate Kid,” I believe “Triumph” will grip and uplift its audience, inspiring them with a powerful story of love, friendship and the triumph of the human spirit. Win from within!

I am very happy that Terrence Howard plays the role of Coach Warren, who is based on Coach Cutting who helped me one-on-one with exercises in the eighth grade in Ulysses, KS before I moved to Amarillo, TX at the start of high school. Terrence is a strong, compelling actor with heart and soul. His performance is deeply heartfelt and inspiring.

I am hoping that “Triumph” will help even more with disability inclusion in the film industry so that people with disabilities (like me) can break barriers in order to have more opportunities to share their knowledge, skills and talent. I hope my work as the writer and a producer of “Triumph” will serve as a testament and give other people the hope and inspiration to pursue their ambitions with passion and prove their abilities to those people who may underestimate someone with extra challenges. Your challenges make you stronger.

In the past couple of years, there has been an increasing Hollywood movement for disability inclusion and authenticity in film (i.e. “The Peanut Butter Falcon“) and more awareness of the anti-bullying movement. With the strong awakening of these important movements, these same themes in “Triumph” are now more relevant than ever. Disability understanding and disability inclusion matter.

Fortunately, after having an opportunity to provide input regarding my story logline, Relativity has given me the very unique opportunity to provide some more input with marketing “Triumph.” I love marketing and I am very grateful for their inclusion of me to both prove my abilities and to help our movie to be the very best it can be — a win-win!

Pursue your dreams with passion and never give up. Believe in yourself. Believe to achieve!

Learn more about “Triumph” here:

Originally published: April 28, 2021
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