Tiny Robot

Naveed first approached me with the idea of making a film about the rituals of cycling. I had been writing a series of stories about my time as a professional cyclist.  He had been reading them.  We didn’t originally intend to tackle the subject of Romeo. If anything, I was trying to avoid it being part of this project.

In January 2005, our son Romeo was born. He was born premature. He was tiny and fragile, despite being a fighter. When he got sick, there was little we could do to save him. But we tried. Everything. After 17 days, he was gone, leaving us with precious few memories, loads of unanswered questions and the void of possibilities, should-haves and would-haves, that would never materialize. 

For years I had been struggling on my own to write a story about Romeo. I wanted to celebrate him in some small way. So I wouldn’t lose grasp of the tenuous details. So I could make others understand how much he was loved in his short life. So they could understand the basic, utter challenge of moving forward, day for day.  Losing a child has a way of defeating you. Isolating you. Friends and family can help. Therapy can help. But in the end, you’re on your own.

And that was something very familiar to me.

From the years I had spent as I bike racer, I had learned to suffer and endure. The bicycle was a brutally efficient tool to surface the deep-set sense of loss, unfairness, despair, and futility I was feeling. So I would ride. Deep into physical pain. Until I collapsed in tears on the handlebars under the flood of emotions that would be unleashed by the physical effort. And once those feelings were there, they could be dealt with.

Tiny Robot is my story of dealing with the loss of Romeo, and how cycling – its innate rituals and my own history – provided a path forward.

The spoken narrative is from a story about bike racing in 1996, many years before I had a family and children.  The visuals are from present day.

It is far from the complete story – my wife, Lisa, and our surviving son, Eros, each have their unique stories, and we as family have had yet another experience. 

I want to thank Naveed for helping me to tell this story, Craig for editing it to its coherent form, Bruce for the audio and the use of WBUR recording studio.  And the musicians and all the friends and family who provided feedback and put up with this project along the way.

To anybody who has watched Tiny Robot or is about to, who has lost a child: you are far from alone. And you have the strength to find your path forward.

                                      The Purity of Speed

John's Story