Miracle in Lane 2 (2000)

Miracle in Lane 2 (2000)

Miracle in Lane 2 was written by Joel Kauffman and Donald C. Yost, the same team behind Full Court Miracle, and was directed by Greg Beeman. Our star is Frankie Muniz, whose Malcolm in the Middle premiere was in January 2000. Even though I didn’t watch Malcolm growing up (I LOVE it now), Frankie was a big part of my childhood. Big Fat Liar and Agent Cody Banks were favorites that now feel so representative of early 2000s kids’ movies.

I don’t recall watching Miracle in Lane 2 quite as much as other DCOMs, but I certainly remember it. There aren’t very many DCOMs with wheelchair users, which I hope is changing. This film was based on a true story. 12-year-old Justin Yoder (portrayed by Frankie Muniz) uses a wheelchair because he has hydrocephalus, a condition in which cerebrospinal fluid accumulates in the ventricles of the brain to cause pressure. He also has spina bifida. Justin’s parents stay very busy with work to provide for his needs, but they worry about Justin and want to keep him safe. This sometimes comes at the expense of Justin getting to enjoy being a kid. His brother Seth (Patrick Levis) is not sensitive to Justin’s feelings, but we learn throughout the film that Seth is in weekly therapy sessions and struggles with stressors of his own.

Justin so badly wants to win a trophy. He is turned away from the baseball team (and vomits his blue slurpee all over the coach), so he gives chess a try. After that attempt, he sees a group of men competing in a car show, including his neighbor, Vic. Justin helps Vic win in exchange for Vic’s prize trophy. The problem is, the trophy never arrives. Justin’s curiosity gets the best of him when he wheels over to Vic’s garage to look for the trophy. Aiming to reach a box that might house the item, Justin causes everything to tumble down… right into Vic’s classic car. As punishment, Justin must go over to Vic’s to help him out.

Like the tree with the forbidden fruit, Vic’s shed is off limits. Justin peeks through the window and sees a huge collection of trophies: “The mother lode!” he says. Once again, he can’t help but be curious, so Justin enters the forbidden shed. Vic’s late daughter was once a soapbox derby racer. As Justin looks at all the awards, photographs, and old home movies, Vic opens the door and angrily kicks him out. But the neighbor eventually comes around when Justin decides he wants to race, too.

Justin’s dad becomes very invested in the soap box derby plans, working with Vic to build Justin’s racer. This is where tension builds in the family. The dad misses Seth’s baseball game because he’s working on Justin’s racer. When there’s a mechanical issue that causes Justin to crash, he accuses Seth. The brothers have a hurtful fight in which Justin reveals to Seth’s friends that Seth sees a psychiatrist. Seth wishes he could physically fight Justin and tells him, “I was you were dead.” Haunting words, and not ones you’ll hear on many DCOMs.

In times of pain and confusion, Justin turns to his version of God, racecar driver Bobby Wade. He meets with God several times during the movie, including after the big fight. When Justin has a frightening accident with his racer, Bobby Wade actually comes to visit him in the hospital. His parents don’t believe that the driver really showed up, but the hospital scene is an interesting fulfillment of Justin’s spirituality.

Justin recovers and has another chance to race, so he trains and prepares for an Akron, Ohio competition. After traveling from Indiana to compete, Justin’s dreams are nearly sabotaged by another kid’s jealous dad, who snoops to discover the handbrake on Justin’s racer. He reports Justin, and a racing committee member goes to the family’s hotel to warn them that he might be disqualified for using the handbrake. Before meeting with the committee, Justin tells his brother, “All I wanted was just once, to know what it feels to be like you.” So Seth decides to help Justin, calling the media to come report on the discrimination that is happening.

It’s hard to believe that the racing committee could be so callous, nearly voting not to let Justin race! Once all those reporters come in with Seth, the authorities don’t have a choice. They must make their soapbox derby accessible by allowing the handbrake. Right before the race, Seth tells Justin, “You’re my hero,” helping to motivate him all the way to a win. Instead of the classic DCOM sports freezeframe, we end back at the Yoders’ house. One more scene between Justin and God/Bobby Wade. Justin asks if people become perfect when they get to Heaven. He is then shown a vision of Heaven in which everyone uses a wheelchair. We close with footage of the real Justin Yoder. Despite the Heaven images, Justin is very much alive.

I found a recent interview in which the real Justin is asked about Miracle in Lane 2. He explained that he was unsure about having so many viewers know about his personal details, but said, “I was still extremely grateful and extremely proud.” The screenwriters went to Justin’s church, he shared. Writer Don Yost said in a Goshen College interview, “What drew us to Miracle was a family under pressure that found ways to transform an obstacle into something triumphant.” Justin’s mom told the story of Frankie Muniz coming to the family’s hotel to hang out and play games with them. Justin is retired from racing now but loved being part of the sport as a kid.

Frankie Muniz and Justin Yoder, via Goshen.edu

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