My dad owns a lot of shoes — dress shoes for dining out, a wide array of monochromatic New Balance, Nike and Asics sneakers for everyday activities, flip-flops and supportive sandals for the South Florida sunshine and slippers for cool New York nights. But I’ll stop you right there before you label Dad a “shopper.” Make no doubt about it, Dad’s preference is for The New York Times, a clarinet concerto and the gently blowing sea breeze, not for shopping for another pair of shoes. What my dad sought in shoes was not vanity, beauty, the newest or the best. He was looking for answers.
In the 10 years leading up to my dad’s Parkinson's disease (PD) diagnosis, these shoes were the only answer to the confusion, uncertainty, and yes, even annoyance, that we as a family felt whenever Dad would stumble, drag his feet, or trip on a step. “Oh it must be those new sandals,” one of us would say. “He probably could use a more supportive sneaker,” another would chime in. But alas, though my father’s closet filled with shoes, his walking never improved. In fact, it continued to deteriorate. Then, in the summer of 2011, we had our answer: Dad was diagnosed with Parkinson’s.
Okay, so now what? “Dad has Parkinson’s” — I remember repeatedly rolling this sentence over in my head. I wasn’t quite sure what it meant, or what I could do. The diagnosis conjured up images of Muhammad Ali, people with tremors. But Dad didn’t have tremors; he just had trouble walking, was a bit stiffer in the legs and arms than his contemporaries, needed an extra moment to get out of the car or up from the couch. This, I was told, was Parkinson’s. As a behavior analyst who works to improve the lives of others, I felt helpless in assisting my own dad. Searching for answers, I found the Parkinson's Foundation.
Through the foundation's free educational books and Parkinson.org, my knowledge of Parkinson’s has grown. I supplied my parents with free literature on caregivers, medication, movement and exercise. I started following them on Facebook, keeping tabs on the new research and examining what we could do as a family to support my dad.
This year, Dad started attending a movement and music class for people with Parkinson’s at the Jewish Community Center in New York City. The class not only got Dad moving but also connected my parents to a community of people with Parkinson’s and caregivers. I later discovered that this class came through the Edmond J. Safra National Parkinson’s Wellness Initiative, based on research at NYU Langone Medical Center and the Parkinson's Foundation.
But no races held more importance for me than when I ran the 2015 Marine Corps Marathon and the 2015 TCS New York City Marathon, which I ran, on back-to-back Sundays, as a Parkinson's Champion.
I started a Facebook page that helped me reach a new and supportive community — friends, family, runners and others — all coming together to support me as I took on this 56.4-miles-in-eight-days challenge. As support for the page grew, so did donations. To thank donors, and to bring further attention to the foundation, I created and posted short, often embarrassing, occasionally humorous, music videos to the Facebook page, culminating in a video entitled “Amy Runs New York” on YouTube. Ultimately, my Facebook community and I raised more than $2,000 for Parkinson's Champions.
I currently own five pairs of running sneakers, each set patiently awaiting its turn for a tour through New York City’s bustling sidewalks and streets. Some shoes have holes, others no tread, two are bright pink and barely used, while others are faded and brown. These shoes give me hope, and remind me each day that I can take steps towards defeating Parkinson’s disease, steps that support my father’s steps, as well as those of millions of others.
Become a Parkinson’s Champion and run an endurance race today at www.parkinson.org/champions.