I have practically lived my entire adult life with Parkinson's disease (PD). Long before I knew there was something wrong with my body or mind, this disease was working its way to the center of my being. Not one person in my family history had ever been diagnosed with Parkinson's. I began showing signs of degeneration in my late twenties. I was 27 when I had an inexplicable, constant cramp in my left foot. By the time I was 35 I was rigid and would often freeze in place, unable to initiate even the most common of movements, like getting out of a chair. I was finally diagnosed with "parkinsonism" in 1983, at 39 years old. Thank goodness for that!
Those 12 years of living with an unknown invader in my body, putting up roadblocks and disrupting messages along my nerve pathways like some internal intruder, was a tough period to live through. Putting a name to this invader gave me a target to aim for, an adversary on which to focus my attention.
Having a name put a shape and scale to the unknown. I realized this is not the first time anyone has faced this challenge. More than a million people in America live with it, and it won't kill me any time soon. So I went out for a run. I’m still running 33 years later.
In those 33 years I have run numerous 5Ks, 10Ks, half-marathons and finally, at 51, I ran my first marathon. I finished it in 4 hours and 29 seconds, finishing in 3,144th place. I thought to myself, “the winners of the race finished nearly 2 hours ago.” Then my wife reminded me that there were nearly 17,000 runners behind me still on the course.
Over the last 20 years I ran another 25 marathons. When I turned 65 I ran my only "ultra" marathon, a 50 kilometer (31 miles) race in the high desert of California. I finished in just under seven hours. It was a rewarding experience, but probably not one I'll try to repeat.
I know I'm getting old for a runner. In fact, when I turned 70 a couple of years ago, I realized the warranty on this body has expired and I'm living without a safety net. I have to take care of myself in order to be there to help others who depend on me. My wife and I have dedicated the last 15 years to Team Parkinson, in order to raise awareness and funding for research in the search for a cure for PD. I study the scientific findings published in research papers and try to translate them into short presentations for the Parkinson’s supports groups I attend. I am optimistic that we will find better treatments and soon be able to alter the progress of the disease even if a cure eludes us. All I can do is do all that I can.