Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

My ears perked up when I was watching Ellen Degeneres’ talk show last week.
Eleven guys from Athens, Ga., had taken their friend Darius Weems on a crosscountry trek a couple of summers ago.
Darius has Duchenne’s Muscular Dystrophy, the same disease affecting our friend Zach Smith of China Grove.
Not only had the guys shown Darius, now 18, such wonders as the Grand Canyon and Carlsbad Caverns, they also discovered how accessible America is.
Like Zach, Darius now must use a wheelchair to get around.
The guys rented a handicapped-accessible RV and set off. Led by Logan Smiley, they ended up filming their experience and creating a documentary, “Darius Goes West,” now available on DVD, with all proceeds going to research of Duchenne’s.
After the show, I logged onto Ellen’s Web site to share this information with Zach’s parents, Mark and Patrice Smith. Imagine my surprise when I found out one of Darius’ friends is Andrew Carson, a junior at Davidson College. I couldn’t resist calling him to find out more.
Andrew and I had a nice conversation on Wednesday afternoon. A Belk scholar, Andrew is an economics major who expects to graduate in spring 2009. Andrew just finished a semester in Chile, and did not get to accompany Darius for the appearance on “Ellen.”
The trip, Andrew said, was all about idealism ó and the boundless enthusiasm of a group of young friends.
“You don’t look at limits,” Andrew said. “We said, we’re just gonna go do it.”
Andrew spoke of the great generosity the group encountered across the nation ó from the support of their hometown of Athens, Ga., to folks who offered everything from places to stay to a hot-air balloon ride.
“There was a huge amount of generosity,” Andrew said.
The documentary won more than two dozen awards during the 2007 film festival season. The group traveled in style. Delta is the official airline of “Darius Goes West,” and Dodge has provided a wheelchair-accessible van.
Thanks to the generosity of the “Ellen” show, the guys will reunite this summer, with a cruise to the Caribbean on Celebrity Cruises.
Besides travel, one of the group’s main goals was to reach Los Angeles to have Darius’ wheelchair “pimped” on MTV’s “Pimp My Ride.”
“We got turned down,” Andrew said, “but it was a hidden blessing. It turned out really well.”Instead, several Georgia companies worked together to outfit Darius with a motorized wheeler that includes voice-activated cell phone, PlayStation 2, a 13-inch television, stereo ó even spinners.Donations to Duchenne’s research are being funneled through Charley’s Fund. So far, DVD sales have generated more than $900,000.
The Know About It program brings Darius’ story to middle-schoolers.
Visit www. dgwknowabout for more info.
If you’d like to purchase the DVD “Darius Goes West,” visit www.dariusgoeswest. com. Cost is $20, with $15 going to Duchenne’s research.