Alwyn Uys is the name of a paraplegic man whose life story forms the basis for Against All Odds: The Alwyn Uys Story. This sports documentary personifies the triumph of the human spirit as Uys and family members, doctors and trainers share his dramatic journey. Having always been a go-getter, the young man pursued sporting excellence, trying to conquer the world of rugby as a flank from the Sharks Academy to his days at Maties. This endeavour surprised doctors who turned Uys into a poster boy for an intestinal health condition that required reconstructive surgery. While the title may seem cliched, it’s difficult to disagree with – showing Uys through the stages leading up to a life-altering car accident.
The young man’s drive and determination are supercharged, giving producer writer and director, Stefan Enslin an all-access pass to his biography. This is his story and realising the power in broadcasting it to the world, Uys had the foresight to serve as an executive producer in his own capacity, partnering via his own production company. Having nurtured a love for film from hunting to water sport stunts, Uys has grown up with and leveraged the power of film. Nowadays, cellphones are able to double as recording devices, leading to an unprecedented amount of video footage source material. This aids the sports documentary in capturing moments from the young man’s able-bodied days as well as photographs following the accident.
Against All Odds is a testament to mind over matter as Alwyn shares details around his fragile mental state in the days when he was learning how to get by without the use of his legs. Having been so free-spirited and independent, the adjustment could have been the end of his story. Yet, having survived a car accident without wearing a seatbelt where he was flung out of a window – this miracle must have been for a reason. Uys has come to terms with the fact that he may never walk again but his renewed focus has been around his faith in becoming an inspiration to those around him, reflecting God’s glory and turning near-tragedy into a loudspeaker for conquering adversity.
A good-looking guy with a can-do attitude, Uys hasn’t let his disability restrict him. Against All Odds: The Alwyn Uys Story captures his fiery spirit, grit and determination by unfurling his life’s story and building up to a swim from Robben Island to Eden on the Bay. This is an extraordinary achievement for able-bodied swimmers, forcing athletes to swim some 7.8km to reach the shore. It’s much more of a challenge to someone with paraplegia, struggling through cold conditions and not being able to use their legs to kick or help keep afloat. Using special leg-straightening braces, some of the drag is reduced but that doesn’t take away from the man’s courageous swim.
“Are we there yet?”
While Stefan Enslin is best known as a producer, he’s made this already intimate story even more personal, breaking the fourth wall from time-to-time. The documentary takes this approach, editing in footage of interviewees before the clapperboard clap and engaging with Uys from the side. Using old film stock filters, scenes from Uys’s youth are given a nostalgic feel in contrast with the present day interviews and here-and-now spontaneity of the big swim. William Collinson’s cinematography glides, composing some beautiful scenes of Uys riding his handcycle across lush landscapes, working out as one with his wheelchair and epic aerial photography of the Robben Island swim, upscaling the production and complementing home videos and photos interspersed between interviews.
Keeping focused on the biographical elements and aftermath of the accident, the documentary is broken down into segments, which relay the build up to the crowning moment. While the blood, sweat and tears make the swim mission’s success seem almost inevitable, what is surprising is the emotional pangs. During the course of Against All Odds, Alwyn’s mom has some emotional moments but his father’s old school stoicism and hardiness seems to melt in the closing stages. Zooming into the father-son dynamic, there’s a bittersweet feel as the story jostles between the challenge of learning to live again and seeking the approval of one’s kin in a upward spiraling series of achievement. Trying to find the vulnerability in both these proud men, Against All Odds reaches breaking point in capturing the elation of a hard fought sporting victory and looking to the future.
Against All Odds: The Alwyn Uys Story is a powerful and inspiring true story, delivered with conviction, compelled by real emotion and a sleek finish. Its faith-based undercurrent may keep some viewers on the back foot but there’s no denying the subject’s true grit in what’s also a deeply human story about recovery and the relentless pursuit of one’s wildest dreams. This sports documentary has some quirks but plays it relatively safe in conveying the story’s formula and inspirational message as reflected by the title. What distinguishes it from similar documentaries is the all-access feel and Uys whose conviction and verve is unquestionable.
At 70 minutes, Against All Odds: The Alwyn Uys Story doesn’t overstay its welcome. Moving at a good pace, the documentary covers a great deal of ground with a specific focus on the family unit. Doctors and coaches weigh in from time to time, commenting on Alwyn’s spinal condition and aspects around the swim and training, but it’s very much a family affair. The intrepid Uys is compelling by way of his relentless drive and never-say-die attitude. Filmed over the course of the pandemic, the documentary is a testament to keeping hope alive and staring down giants. Eager to move onto bigger and better sporting achievements, Uys is already competing in full Ironman competitions and wants to summit Kilimanjaro, which seems more like a case of when.
The bottom line: Stirring