Josh Crickmay’s life was saved by a comedy film about bird-watching.
At the age of 15, Crickmay, of Pietermaritzburg – psychologically crippled by Asperger syndrome, a form of autism – had dropped out of school, spiralled into depression, been hospitalised and had begun to display suicidal traits.
At their wits’ end, his parents looked for a way to give their son’s life meaning. He had always been fascinated by wildlife, birds in particular, and so the outlandish idea of taking a “big year” was conceived.
The 2011 comedy The Big Year revolved around characters played by Steve Martin, Jack Black and Owen Wilson trying to identify as many North American birds as possible during a calendar year.
“We had just watched the movie,” said Crickmay’s mother, Kathy. “It resonated with us. It wouldn’t be a random trip: there would be a purpose, a target.”
Crickmay’s challenge was to identify more than 1,000 birds from two different parts of the world – 500in Southern Africa and 500 in the jungles of Ecuador, South America.
For the family, the “big year” meant Kathy resigning as a teacher and Andrew, Josh’s father, leaving his business in the hands of his brother.