It’s easy to be cynical. A successful entrepreneur who made millions from the fitness industry, Augustine “Augie” Nieto is rich, smart, and married to a supportive and capable wife. When he was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease), he, of course, got the best of everything. The best medicine. The best doctors. The best machines. The best.
At one point in this enriching documentary, Augie’s wife, Lynne, says that it costs something like $250K per year just to keep him alive. It would be easy to be snarky, to point out that as unlucky as Augie was to have been stricken with the awful disease, he is getting better treatment and care than so many others that do not have the same level of resources. But as this intimate film explains, the disparity in care and treatment is something that Augie has devoted the remainder of his life to change.
An American success story, Augustine Nieto went from being an overweight kid to a captain of the fitness industry. The founder of Lifecycle, Augie, as he was known, thrived as a guru in the business of health fitness. He became the big wheel in the cycle game. But, ironically, it was his muscles that chose to betray him.
Augie’s business success was due in a large part to his work ethic and drive marking him as a risk taker. We learn that on a skiing trip years ago he terribly injured his knee and could have died. It was reflecting on that experience that helped him realize when he did something dangerous, he was threatening the livelihood of his wife and children as well.
Everyone is interconnected. And Augie was not an island. Others depended on him and still do.
The film shows us that ALS became a catalyst for a new direction. When the disease took from him his ability to use his arms, then to use his legs, and then even the ability to breathe on his own, it would have been easy to just give up—to lay down and die. But to give in would be to take something from his family and those around him. Even shackled to a wheelchair, communicating through the use of high-tech computer that responds to a trackball manipulated by his toe, Augie shows us how to live and fight.
Stories like this need to be told and celebrated. And with “Augie,” actor turned filmmaker James Keach delivers an inspiring take on a man whose purpose was revealed only after his body turned on him. It’s a very personal film, but also one that aims to raise our awareness of this disease that may one day be beaten.