It takes a minute to find your rhythm on the bike, but it happens. It’s not something you think about consciously, but a number of tiny adjustments take place. After you adjust your hands, after your breathing normalizes, you don’t think about how you need to shift your weight on the upcoming turn. You just do, and once you do, it’s as if the world melts away and all that’s left is you, the bike, and the road. 

That rhythm is what Dave Ohlmuller yearned for. Four to six hours a day on the bike allowed him to outpace the horror, the anger, and the fear. For a while, anyway. At twelve years old, Ohlmuller was sexually assaulted by a priest in his New Jersey hometown. His trauma was profound and trauma doesn’t have an expiration date. Like Everest, it’s not something you get over. Trauma is an iceberg, and below the surface of what is seen lies the true weight of things.

Time went on, as it does. Ohlmuller got married, developed issues with addiction, recovered from a severe car accident, fathered a son and worked to become an accomplished athlete. Where he went, his trauma followed. Ohlmuller felt its weight through depression. Anxiety. Substance abuse. Adding insult to injury were the considerable legal and political roadblocks he experienced after filing suit against his attacker, Michael “Mitch” Walters, the Archdiocese, and the Parish.

Ohlmuller sought solace on the bike. He learned about a peloton, which is a term used to identify a group of cyclists. In a peloton, there’s protection. The ability to go further while remaining safe. He took this concept and did something extraordinary with it in the documentary A Peloton of One.

We learn that Ohlmuller has built a life in Chicago. But he knows that abusers thrive in shadow and silence. He thinks he can do something to help other survivors. His plan is a ten-day bike ride from Chicago to New York. During the journey, he’ll raise awareness about his own experiences, inspire others to come forward, and put pressure on state legislators to reform statute of limitation laws.

What do legislators have to do with anything, you might be asking? There’s no federal standard regarding when survivors of sexual assault can sue their attackers for civil damages. Instead, each state sets its own limitations.* For example, it used to be that Michigan allowed survivors to sue:

  • Within two years if the incident involved assault.
  • Within five years if the survivor lives with the assailant.
  • Or by the 19th birthday of the survivor if the incident happened when they were children.

Those limitations simply aren’t realistic, since horrifyingly large numbers of survivors don’t come forward until well into middle age. Politicians, like criminals, are a superstitious and cowardly lot. Convincing them to alter or remove statutes of limitation can’t be done through a well-reasoned argument. It’s done through public pressure, and a court case in Pennsylvania gives Ohlmuller an opportunity to get involved.

Along his journey, he hears heartbreaking stories of childhoods destroyed. He learns about institutions, men of God, and parents failing in their most basic duty — protection. He also meets people from all walks of life who come forward. They want to tell their stories. They want to help, however they can. They want to make real change.

I’m a sucker for documentaries that set out to make a positive difference in the here and now. Directors John Bernardo and Steven E. Mallorca made A Peloton of One to do just that. I think a lesser film would have started at the 30,000-foot view, bombarded us with general statistics, then zoomed in. Instead of a macro approach, Mallorca and Bernardo take the opposite and more interesting approach. They laser focus on Dave Ohlmuller, using his voyage as the locus. He passes skyscrapers and verdant fields. As he encounters new places, he encounters other survivors and allies, bringing them into a community. Mallorca and Bernardo do excellent work weaving their stories with a compelling history of the many abuse scandals and how state legislatures have approached them. Instead of using the scandals as an inchoate cry of rage, they use that anger as an engine.

The film also effectively humanizes Ohlmuller instead of deifying him. He’s a good man, one with an instinct to connect to others. You’ll see several moments in the film where, without an ounce of awkwardness, Ohlmuller thrusts out a hand for a shake. He’s also someone who dives headfirst into fitness as a substitute for counseling. His friend Joe Capozzi, a writer and fellow survivor, repeatedly urges him to seek therapy. Ohlmuller listens, nods, and never quite agrees to it. Will his approach work? Perhaps.

Film is art. Sometimes that art is designed for escapism. Sometimes it’s intended to make a statement. In the case of A Peleton of One, it’s a piece of art created to make a difference. A Peleton of One is powerful, necessary, endlessly compassionate. It makes a case that things need to change, that a system needs to take responsibility. All of it happens because of a man on his bike, pedaling ever forward.


*In my home state of Colorado, the law used to be that, in cases of sexual assault involving minors, survivors had a six-year statute of limitations to sue their attackers for civil damages. A new law was passed in 2021 that completely eliminated the SOL. Unfortunately, the law doesn’t have a retroactive application, and survivors who previously had a SOL expire cannot now sue their abusers. The Colorado Catholic Conference opposed the bill, which doesn’t exactly strike me as Christlike. 

Tim has been alarmingly enthusiastic about movies ever since childhood. He grew up in Boulder and, foolishly, left Colorado to study Communications in Washington State. Making matters worse, he moved to Connecticut after meeting his too-good-for-him wife. Drawn by the Rockies and a mild climate, he triumphantly returned and settled down back in Boulder County. He's written numerous screenplays, loves hiking, and embarrassed himself in front of Samuel L. Jackson. True story.