I wrote the first draft of PELOTON in the spring of 2002. The real genesis behind the film however, was set in motion years before. Being a bike racer (albeit a low level amateur with a penchant for falling off my bike) I had always been intrigued with the idea of a cycling film. The visuals of bike racing were aesthetically exciting to put on the big screen and there had been no real “bike” film for decades, but I did not have a story to hang the racing and biking upon.
Around the same time, I had committed to a close friend of mine who was a cyclist and writer that life was too short to continue with a career path that did not excite me (I was in medical school at the time.) John and I continued that conversation over the ensuing months and into a long bike ride that summer, a discussion that focused upon the essential elements of living — that the life worth living was one surrounded by friends, laughing together, family, having a woman you loved, doing what you loved and helping those that you cared for do the same. Granted, long bike rides without enough oxygen tended to bring out the philosopher in us, a psychosis cured with post-ride beers. We both had a goal of being writers; I wanted to act and make films as well. John was well ahead of me in the career goal department as he had graduated early from Stanford with a masters in creative writing (along with being a top ranked bike racer), while I was starting rotations in medical school. He was headed to Europe to race bikes and write, I was headed into a hospital to deliver babies. Then I received an unforgettable phone call, John had died in a car accident.
In film they say it is the reaction shot that serves the scene, the anxiety of the onlookers, the home crowd’s face as the hero wins the game that sells the drama of the moment. Perhaps John’s accident was too surreal to fathom at the moment, the reality of not sharing life’s adventures together a concept to painful to even try to swallow, but I remember the reactions around me. I remember families flying in to be with John’s family, friends driving across country to be there, phone lines ringing around the clock for days in the family home. This boy and his family had touched a depth of people so intimately and now our hearts ached with theirs.
The outpouring of sympathy was one reaction. But PELOTON grew out of the reaction that followed. Friends of John who had contemplated various actions in their life, writing an article, running an ultra-marathon, went out and did it, became top ranked bike racers, won the marathons, started their own businesses. My oath to John was to write the movies and books we had discussed.
John had a breadth of wit that could make any room laugh. Along with his incredible humor and wit, John had also faced his demons. One of the many tragedies of his accident, was knowing that he had finally let go of the past that had bothered him and was about to vault into the life he had dreamed, of cycling and writing words that would have entertained the world. So I sat every morning before rounds began at the hospital and hand wrote the first version of PELOTON, the story of a man finding his way back into life, redeeming himself via cycling, in honor of John Christophe Schlesinger, our many conversations and the life we shared as friends.
We are now moving forward with the production of PELOTON — which is quite thrilling to see a dream become reality, and admittedly quite frightening to the point of nausea. But to do what I love, surrounded by friends, and now asking for the help I need to fulfill that dream, well, that is a life worth living.