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Interview With Donald Bowman: Heart: Flatline To Finish Line


We recently had the opportunity to interview Donald Bowman, the producer of HEART: Flatline to Finish Line. The film recently completed its campaign on Kickstarter, coming away with a very successful $22,037 of its $20,000 goal. The documentary will follow a group of cardiac patients as they train to compete in the Ironman Triathlon in Arizona. We asked Donald about the documentary and its inspiration.

Q: Where did the inspiration for this documentary come from? What was it about this project that called to you?

Donald: Dave Watkins is the Creator and Director of the documentary and several years ago he had open-heart surgery to replace a valve in his heart.  As a message to his daughters to teach them never to give up – after surgery he continued on his dream to complete an Ironman © Triathlon.  After achieving his goal he started an organization called Ironheart which is a growing community of over 300 members all of whom are cardiac patients who participate in endurance sport to stay healthy, raise awareness and inspire others.

With his good friend and fellow survivor of open-heart surgery, Ellen Charnley, he set about gathering a small but diverse team of cardiac patients to complete an Ironman© Triathlon in Arizona in November 2012 to raise awareness for heart disease and heart defects.  In thinking about how best to do this they decided to record the journey by film and this has led to the creation of this inspirational new documentary.

A small team of ‘rookie’ film makers all of whom have had open heart surgery are now 300 hours into filming and are currently planning all the details to capture race week in Arizona in November.

Q: Who do you expect your audience will be? Who are you trying to reach out to with this documentary?

Donald: Having talked to a number of industry experts we have quickly come to realize what a broad audience this documentary will have.  It is an underdog story which will take the viewer through all the trials, tribulations and challenges that any endurance athlete faces through a year of training which is only compounded and complicated by taking extra care of their hearts.  We cannot tell you who will make it to the finishing line, we don’t even know who will be at the starting line, a cardiologist may tell one of the team not to race, injuries may occur and some might simply not be ready, mentally or physically.

Regardless, this story will be remarkably inspirational, as you watch these individuals from all walks of life, all parts of the country and ages ranging from 25-60, compete in the world’s toughest endurance race – the Ironman© while also overcoming all of their personal health issues.

With its varied cast and a subject matter that crosses borders we expect there to be an enormous audience worldwide who’s spirits and goals will be raised by this documentary.

Q: What is the draw for your audience? What makes your documentary unique?

Donald: Almost everyone involved in the project has been touched by heart disease or congenital heart defects.  Many have had open heart surgery themselves and the more we develop the documentary the more we are finding those touched by this killer epidemic that want to be involved, for example the soundtrack will be provided by musicians who have had heart surgery.

Simply put, the filmmakers and cast are all former open heart surgery patients.

The documentary is also unique in that an Ironman© has never been completed by a team of cardiac athletes.  This has never been done before and some might argue that it should not be done.  The documentary explores the medical views on this controversial subject

Q: Did you draw influences for this documentary from other films? Which ones? Are there any specific directors you draw inspiration from?

Donald: This is a first time project for the Ironheart Productions crew.  While our Director of Cinematography, Adam Knight is a professional videographer, the rest of the crew have learned everything from scratch as we work on this documentary.  Our influence has been gained from a remarkable group of industry advisors who have fallen in love with our project.  Otherwise, this is truly a project of passion for Dave, Ellen, Adam, Donald and Leanne.

Q: What specific locations or people are featured in your documentary? What is their significance to the project?

Donald: There is a different story behind each of the cast members that gives a different angle to getting to the finish line.  The cast are based across the states as far East as New Hampshire and as far West as Honolulu.

Dave Watkins, Age 41: Open Heart Surgery May 20, 2005 , Seattle, WA

Flatlined for 5 minutes... No functional heartbeat. Dave's family was brought into his ICU hospital room to say any 'last words' before he was wheeled back in to the operating room. He had just undergone open-heart surgery to replace his aortic valve. The doctors were able to bring him back to life. A few weeks later, Dave had a stroke. He once again recovered, and with a new lease on life, Dave became a man on a mission. Dave now uses endurance sports as a way to teach his daughters 'life lessons.' Get ready... he'll probably teach you a few of these lessons as well! The leader of the pack, Dave has set out to find other cardiac patients who are out to prove that your heart can take you farther than you might think.

Ellen Charnley, Age 43:  Open Heart Surgery March 26, 2010, Chicago, IL / Carmel, CA

Planes, trains, and automobiles... Ellen is a true Road Warrior. As a business consultant, Ellen travels the globe, working endless long hours with corporations from the Pacific to the Atlantic. Ellen has lived in London, Bermuda, San Francisco, Hawaii, Las Vegas, and Chicago. Who knows where she'll end up next! How will she train for Ironman® while living on airplane food and hotel room service, while working out in stuffy, cramped hotel gyms? Where will she find the time? Now, add to that the fact that Ellen recently found out she was born with multiple holes in her heart and that it was slowly failing. Doctors described her heart as 'Swiss cheese' and told her that she needed immediate open-heart surgery to save her life. This was such a life altering experience for Ellen, she wrote a book about it.

Jeremy Woodward, Age 33: Open Heart Surgery August 3, 2007, New Hampshire

Jeremy must like the number two. Two very young daughters. Two jobs. Two open heart surgeries. Twice he has been in heart failure. As a new dad, Jeremy switched from changing bike tires to diapers. No more water bottles. Now it's baby bottles. Jeremy doesn't chase the cycling pack, he now chases two giggling girls until exhaustion.

Jim Oldfield, Age 60: Open Heart Surgery March 15, 2003, Caledonia, MI

WC Fields once said, "If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Then quit. No use being a damn fool about it." Jim must not be a reader of this humorist icon. After suffering a heart attack and surviving a triple bypass surgery, Jim went from the true couch potato and chronic smoker to Ironman® competitor in just a few years. Jim has attempted Ironman® 140.6, 4 times. Never has he made it to the end.

Race officials have pulled Jim off the course every time he’s attempted to finish. Sometimes he didn't make the mandatory cutoff times, other times he needed serious medical attention. But for whatever reason, here’s the thing about Jim... he simply won’t stop until he sees the finish line. And when he does, he’ll stay at the finish line cheering on every athlete who crosses and hugging everyone else who doesn’t.

Patrick Hight, Age 53: Heart Surgery (Stents) April 2, 2004 Open Heart Surgery July 14, 2008, Austin, TX

Tight chest, difficulty breathing... sound like symptoms of a heart attack? You're right. 5 stents and a triple bypass heart surgery later, this good ol' southern gentleman will stand at the starting line for the rest of his life. Patrick isn't your typical athlete. In fact, exercise wasn't in his vocabulary until it was almost too late. Growing up a military brat meant moving around a lot. As a result, he was never in one place long enough to establish an ongoing, meaningful athletic experience. Now, his motto is, 'Do it like it means something, because it does'.

Scott Roy, Age 38: Open Heart Surgery November 15, 2010, Spokane, WA

Those who can’t do, teach. We’ve all heard that before. This never applied to Scott. As a USAT Level II Triathlon coach and ITCA and USA Swim coach, he helped countless athletes from around the globe. Over 70 have crossed the finish line of Ironman® under his guidance. After a competitive lifestyle as a collegiate swimmer, he soon found himself 40 pounds overweight. Then, he was set back with another hurdle- his mitral valve was failing and needed urgent surgery. He completed 20 marathons and over 75 triathlons of all distances, including the Boston Marathon and Xterra World Championship.  You will learn about the recent tragedy that has struck Scott's family and how an entire community has come together to follow his legacy.  Sometimes, out of darkness emerges strength.

Adam Knight, Age 25: Open Heart Surgery March 30, 2010, Seattle, WA

Three heart surgeries all before the age of 25. Adam’s story can stop there. The kid’s body has been traumatized over and over again. He’s never been much of an athlete and he often found himself on the sidelines, but he always stayed active and liked to run and ride his bike. He even played a little water polo. But he never committed. "I don’t like pain." Those are Adam’s words... heard many times. Who can blame him? He’s suffered more pain at his young age then most experience in a life time.

Adam didn’t even really know what Ironman® was a year ago. But get ready, Adam. You have no idea what you just got yourself into. Pain? You don’t like pain? That’s just plain funny for a guy who’s about to experience 17 hours of it. The difference is that this time he’ll be awake while his body gets traumatized inside and out.

Ryan Leong, Age 40: Open Heart Surgery December 14, 2009, Honolulu, HI

Paradise: Sandy beaches, tropical drinks with an umbrella, lounging in the warm sun... Sounds good, right? This is not the paradise Ryan lives in.  Yes, he lives in Hawaii, but paradise for Ryan is being crouched on his bike for hours in the blistering heat, running until the soles of his shoes begin to melt on the pavement, swimming longer than you'd care to drive your convertible rental car. You see, Ryan NEEDS to go long and hard. The harder his heart works, the longer he'll live. Ryan has what is called a 'Stone Heart'. Many have said they'd rather die than race for 140.6 miles.  Ryan simply trains and races to live. Ironman® is his paradise.

If you are interested in making a donation to this documentary, you can visit its official site here: