Gillette teen featured in Disney documentary

Paul Casey helps his son Seamus adjust his hair. Seamus, a sophomore at Thunder Basin High School in Gillette, is one of 20 youths from across the country featured in a Disney Plus documentary series titled "Marvel's Hero Project." (Photo by August Frank, Gillette News Record)

GILLETTE — The 14-year-old slowly comes closer and into focus while running down the middle of an empty northeastern Wyoming highway.

It is a cold, sunny winter afternoon on the outskirts of the Black Hills near Devils Tower. The road is a flat, two-lane highway that spans the prairie and gentle rolls of landscape blanketed in Black Hills pines on the horizon.

The high school freshman wears a red sweater and black track pants while he runs straight ahead. He seem alone and isolated, yet his head is up and his eyes are fixed forward with a determined look. It’s a look uncommon for many his age, and it’s one that shows the runner knows exactly what he’s striving for.

When not filming a scene for television, he wouldn’t normally be running down the middle of an empty road in the dead of winter. He’s a wrestler and a rock climber, not an extreme cross-country runner. But he runs for a reason.

Behind him is what he’s already accomplished, while ahead are the goals that will lead to more accomplishments to come.

Keeping pace with him is a documentary film crew that encompasses both.

His voice plays over the scene of himself and other young people featured in the documentary series.

“Through doing what I love, I’ve been able to help people and do something that’s considered extraordinary,” he says. “And everyone’s capable of that.”

The runner is Seamus Casey, now a 15-year-old sophomore at Thunder Basin High School who is to be featured on “Marvel’s Hero Project,” a documentary series on the new Disney Plus streaming platform.

The documentary creators found Seamus last year by Googling “amazing kid Wyoming,” and Casey’s Dream of 13 came up in the search results.

The “Dream of 13” was a fundraising campaign Casey created for himself when he was 13 and still in junior high school. He wanted to use his climbing skills to raise 13 scholarships, worth $5,000 each, to give to Folds of Honor, a charity that distributes the scholarships to spouses and children of dead or disabled military veterans.

Of all of the extraordinary youths in the United States that Disney could have chosen to feature, the film and television giant decided on Casey, a 5-foot-nothing, 100-and-nothing-pound kid from the least populated state in the nation as one of 20 inspirational kid stories to highlight.

Paul Casey, Seamus’ father, received an email from the show’s creators, and after he researched their company to make sure it was legitimate, Paul asked Seamus how he felt about letting them come to Wyoming to make the documentary.

“This could bring things that I have no control of into your life, negative things,” Paul said to his son. “I mean, we’re talking Disney. It’s not just national, this is international.”

Casey thought and prayed about it a long time before giving his father his answer.

“Tell me why you want to do it,” Paul said.

“I think it would be a great platform to raise money for those families,” Casey replied.

After the OK from the Caseys, the production crew came in the fall of 2018 and filmed Seamus climbing Devils Tower, as a freshman at Thunder Basin High School and with the wrestling team in the home Pat Weede Memorial Invite.

“They pulled us back in the locker room and had an interview session with the spotlight right on you,” Bolts wrestling coach Micah Kadera said. “It’s cool for him and it’s an awesome opportunity for what he’s striving for.

“(The wrestlers) knew that they were there, but I don’t think they acted any different. … They were there to see everyday life.”

Despite all of the news articles, social media posts and the upcoming documentary on him, Seamus is still just a 15-year-old sophomore in high school. He said the publicity hasn’t fazed him because, in the end, he’s only trying to get his message out to as many people as he can to help veterans and their families.

And it’s working.

His message is spreading rapidly. On Monday, Seamus was a guest on ABC’s “Tamron Hall Show” to talk with other “Marvel’s Hero Project” kids about the documentary series.

People Magazine is scheduled to run a story on him as well, Paul Casey said.

Marvel gave him a leather jacket and his own comic book to induct him as a real life super hero.

“I’m not the hero of my story. That’s kind of the nice part for it,” Seamus said. “If you look at the 19 other kids, they’re all clearly the heroes of their stories. And mine, the military families I serve are really the true superheroes.”

It all started for Casey when he was a kid with an obsession for rock climbing.

A skinny 10-year-old went climbing for the first time at a friend’s birthday party, and it didn’t go as well as planned.

“I made it halfway up the wall and freaked out and had to come down,” Casey said.

But he said he stuck with it to face his fear of heights and develop grip strength for wrestling.

A common sight at the Campbell County Recreation Center would be a junior high-aged Casey in his red wrestling shorts and shirt, some grippy climbing shoes and taped up hands. He’d boulder around and around the Devils Tower-like structure with no ropes.

“You have to be so focused. Not only just climbing, but (with) safety precautions and stuff. It’s super physically demanding,” Casey said. “It’s just challenging all around, and I love challenging myself.”

He would grab hold of two pieces of colorful plastic rock installed on the wall, lift himself off the floor, then start scrambling the endless routes around the base of the climbing wall. Casey finessed around the structure, navigating the handle-bar like holds and nubs that lend space to just a fingertip or two to grip and crimps that most beginning climbers wouldn’t bother with because of the difficulty.

In one instance, Casey stayed on the wall for almost three hours, climbing around and around until he had gone for 57 laps, a record on the wall modeled after Devils Tower. He had never scaled a true cliff yet, but he was about as good as anyone could get by only training indoors.

“I would just train on the wall over and over again,” Casey said. “It got super old, doing it for hours on end. Usually, I tried to climb some other routes just to keep it interesting.”

Casey wanted to make the jump to the real thing, but his father wouldn’t let him go rock climbing without a professional. So, after a lot of research, Paul found professional climber Will Buckman, who agreed to take the 11-year-old up Devils Tower.

Buckman and Seamus went on to climb Grand Teton near Jackson when Casey was 12. Buckman’s been with Casey on all of his outdoor climbs to date.

Seamus still wanted more and went to his father with another crazy triathlon idea. He wanted to beat his own bouldering record at the Recreation Center’s climbing wall one day, ride a bike from Gillette to Devils Tower (about 65 miles) on the next day, and then climb up the real monolith on the final day.

Paul thought it was crazy, but he didn’t want to limit Seamus’ active personality, and he knew that if anybody could do it, Seamus was the kid for the job. But Paul had an idea to make the three-day adventure even more important: Do it for charity.

“When I came up with the idea, my dad said I should find someone to use my efforts to help raise funds for,” Seamus said. “I saw Folds of Honor on Fox News one morning, and I knew at once that’s who I wanted to help.”

They set up a website and started raising donations for Folds of Honor.

Seamus’ grandfather, Jim Casey, served in the Vietnam War, Seamus said.

“Those families give so much, so it’s the least I can do to try to give back to them,” Seamus said.

The goal, which they called the “Dream of 13” because of the 13 folds in the flag at a U.S. service member’s funeral (and because Seamus was 13 years old at the time), was to raise 13 scholarships worth $5,000 each, for a grand total of $65,000.

Seamus finally reached that goal in November.

What started out as a passion for climbing and pushing himself to the limit turned into a greater mission to help on a national scale.

He’s spoken at events with hundreds of people, received awards, played golf with service members, and met politicians and celebrities. A painting of Seamus climbing Devils Tower by artist Gabriel Krekk raised $13,000 for Folds of Honor.

In September, Seamus went on stage while the country band Big & Rich were playing in Rapid City, South Dakota, and the band handed him the microphone. He spoke about his story and the military charity in front of some 9,000 people, and more donations poured in from that.

“That was the biggest crowd I’ve ever spoken in front of, and I didn’t know what I was going to say before I grabbed the mic,” Seamus said. “When I get up and talk, I let God take control and hope I don’t say anything too stupid.”

Seamus completed his fundraising goal, but said his work is far from over.

Last year, Folds of Honor had about 500 scholarships worth $5,000 each that weren’t filled for military families in need, he said.

“I definitely want to put a big dent in that because those families have given so much,” Seamus said. “There’s a higher demand now, too. More people know about it and are applying for the scholarships, so more funds need to be generated. And that’s my plan for the future.”

He said he wants to go into either the Air Force or Naval Academy after he graduates from high school.

Seamus is a member of the Bolts wrestling team and has another athletic goal — win a Class 4A state title in the 120-pound weight class. He made the finals and finished as the state runner-up last season as a 106-pound freshman.

He also enjoys bow hunting, climbing, working out, spending time with family and friends and watching episodes of “The Office” in the little spare time he has during the wrestling season, Seamus said.

Friends Cael Porter and Alex Draper, also sophomores on the Thunder Basin squad, described Seamus as a hard worker who doesn’t want to be in the spotlight.

“I’d say he’s kind of a natural leader, but when it’s just us three, he’s just a normal kid,” Draper said. “But he sets himself to higher standards than most kids, I’d say.”

Porter said the notoriety hasn’t changed Seamus at all.

“We’ve talked about people coming in just because that he’s in this, and just being on the lookout for those people,” Porter said. “And we don’t try to be like, ‘My best friend Seamus is in this movie or whatever.’ We’re just cool about it.”

Seamus also enjoys playing golf, and he tried out for the high school golf team in the fall, but was cut. He then worked as a belayer at his beloved climbing wall.

The sophomore has already ran down his road farther than most people will ever get, and he has a lot farther to go.

Along the way, he’ll encounter those who try to trip him up or lead him off course along with others who will offer a pat on the back or a place to rest. But his road is there, still right in front of him.

Some people never find their road. Others stray off it and can get lost in the hills, or trip and fall and decide to settle down where they’re at, where it’s comfortable.

Not Seamus.

And just like in the trailer introducing “Marvel’s Hero Project,” he remains focused straight ahead down the road. And he’s running down the middle.