LUMBERTON — Jenny Mulligan lost her battle with brain cancer Thursday, but the Robeson County premiere of a documentary chronicling her sister Maria Parker’s cross-country bike ride last year to raise money for cancer research was less a eulogy than a celebration of life — and a reminder that “HOPE” endures.
More than 130 people gathered inside the Carolina Civic Center in downtown Lumberton on Tuesday evening to attend a screening of “HOPE,” which was directed by Jenny’s son, Tim Mulligan.
“This is a big moment for me and my family,” Tim told the crowd. “It’s been a really intense and emotional past few weeks.”
The first-time filmmaker followed Parker and her crew during Race Across America, from their takeoff in California until they crossed the finish line in Maryland, capturing every setback the cyclist encountered along her 3,002-mile trek. During the second day of the race, a traffic accident involving her support team sidelined the 51-year-old for a day in Arizona.
“Filmmakers get happy when things get tough,” Tim said. “That wreck was a tragedy wrapped in a blessing.”
By the time she hit Indiana on the 10th day of the race, an exhausted Parker was on the verge of throwing in the towel. During an inspirational scene that serves as the film’s climax, Carly Redfearn, a member of her team who coordinated the screening, asked people tracking Parker’s progress on Facebook to share a few words of encouragement to nudge her along.
Redfearn’s post sparked an outpouring of support and, according to Parker, hearing the comments inspired her to keep peddling.
“It was miraculous to me that so many people cared and wanted to encourage me,” she said.
Parked finished the race on June 23, 2013 — clocking in at 11 days, 20 hours and 54 minutes. She was the first woman to cross the finish line and set a course record, prompting Race Across America officials to declare her performance the “greatest comeback” in the competition’s 32-year history.
Redfearn said she was pleased with the turnout for the event, which raised more than $2,500 for brain cancer research and brought Parker closer to her ultimate goal of $1 million. So far, she’s raised more than $150,000 through her 3,000 Miles to a Cure campaign, which began soon after learning of her sister’s illness.
“The turnout was double what I expected,” Redfearn said. “I think it went great; the audience was really receptive to the movie.”
Audible sniffling throughout the premiere gave way to a standing ovation when the credits began to roll at the end of the film.
“It was fabulous; one of the most inspiring pieces I’ve seen in a long time,” Toni Sacry said. “The fact that Maria is from Lumberton makes it extra special.”
“I loved it,” Sandra Eggert said. “It portrayed exactly what they hoped to get across.”
“HOPE” was produced by Charlie Mulligan, another of Jenny’s sons, and Nathan Dowdy, a friend of the family.
“Mom went to go be with the Lord Thursday and we hope this film is a way to carry on her legacy forever and ever,” Charlie said. “I know she’s finally free from her illness and weakness. This is for her.”
Tim spent many “sleepless nights” stitching together the 50-minute documentary, reviewing several hundred hours of footage shot during his aunt’s cross-country race.
“If anything defined the process of the movie, it’s probably how little we knew about what we were doing until the very end, when it all clicked,” he said.
Interspersed throughout the film are scenes featuring people offering their personal definitions of “hope.”
Parker gave hers during a Q&A session after the screening.
“Hope is knowing that, if you keep the wheels turning and get back on the bike, you’re eventually going to get there,” she said.