“I’d still like to reach that goal of 300 skydives in 24 hours,” Kevin Burkart said.
Kevin has completed three skydiving fundraising events totaling 401 skydive jumps, raising nearly $250,000 for the fight against Parkinson’s disease. He was inspired after his father, Gary, was diagnosed with PD in 1999, and has played an inspiring role in the Parkinson’s community ever since.
Gary was gearing up to retire when he noticed an uncontrollable tremor in his hand during meetings. Shortly after, Gary was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. After hearing the news Kevin set out to learn about PD. “At the time it hit me hard. There was an emotional reaction, visceral almost. This is going to be a tragic situation and we have a real challenge ahead of us,” Kevin said.
As a business owner in his 20s at the time, Kevin has always been tenacious and felt like he could do more for his father. A search led him to the Struthers Parkinson’s Center, a NPF Center of Excellence located in Minneapolis, where Kevin lived. He scheduled an appointment. They went together.
“His first all-day assessment at a Parkinson’s Center of Excellence was just he and I. It was a really special time just to do a deep dive into the disease and be with my father hand in hand. It was a real blessing,” Kevin said.
They then attended their first Parkinson’s conference. Kevin immediately enrolled his entire family in the Parkinson Association of Minnesota (PAM), which would later become the National Parkinson Foundation Minnesota Chapter. “We just surrounded ourselves with that eco-system of people that were facing the same challenges that we were,” Kevin said. He quickly joined the board and started attending fundraisers and events with his father, immersing himself in the Parkinson’s community.
“Dad and I are both go-getters. We did the standard nonprofit fundraising events, but noticed that we weren’t reaching a new audience because those events, while critical and important, weren’t creating significant awareness, and weren’t raising that much money,” Kevin said.
Kevin had started thinking of a new way that would bring awareness, and hopefully more donations to the PD community.
Kevin had started skydiving around the time his father was diagnosed. By 2008, he was a professional skydiver, skydiving instructor and participated in competitions. “I thought, ‘What if I can do 100 skydives in a day and raise awareness and funds for Parkinson’s?’” Kevin said. But he was met with opposition. “The skydiving community, the aviation community, my family and friends said I couldn’t do 100 skydives in a day, and I was determined to figure out a way to do it,” Kevin said.
Kevin confirmed with the Federal Aviation Administration that 2,000 feet was the minimum altitude for skydiving. He then timed himself for six identical jumps at the minimum altitude. He confirmed that mathematically 100 jumps in one day was possible.
On June 4, 2008, Kevin successfully carried out "100 Perfect Jumps for Parkinson Disease." Even with a seven-hour weather hold he successfully jumped 100 times in one day and raised more than $48,000 for PD. He averaged one jump every 4 minutes and 56 seconds.
But Kevin felt that he could do more than 100 jumps. He calculated that he could do 200 jumps in 24 hours, which led him to train for his "200 Perfect Jumps for Parkinson Disease" fundraiser in 2010. Thick fog led to a delayed start time, another seven-hour weather hold. After 25 skydives in the dark of night Kevin finished with 150 jumps in one day, a new record, averaging a jump every 3 minutes and 18 seconds. He could have jumped well into the morning to complete the 200 jumps, but out of safety concerns Kevin stopped the event and told the group to be proud of the new record, raising the awareness and an additional $78,000 for the fight against Parkinson’s.
Kevin was planning his next fundraiser of 300 jumps, skipping 200 altogether, for PD when a life-changing snowmobile accident left him with broken bones, shattered vertebrae and severe nerve damage to his left arm. Since his accident, Kevin has had no mobility in his arm, but like his father, Kevin is a fighter.
In June 2013, Kevin re-branded and successfully completed 151 "Imperfect Jumps for Parkinson Disease.” His asymmetrical flying – skydiving with one arm – made his jumps imperfect. Kevin had done the unthinkable, he devised a way to skydive using one arm, and in the process set a new record for one-armed skydives in a day and raised more than $135,000 for NPF and the NPF Minnesota Chapter.
Today, Kevin is still thinking about completing 300 jumps in 24 hours, with one arm. Weather permitting, with a 12:01 a.m. start time and using the custom-made skydive suit he created, which straps his non-functional arm to his body, he says it’s a possibility.
It’s all about Parkinson’s disease. Kevin witnessed first-hand the thousands of people who were normally not involved in Parkinson’s fundraising that would support his jumps, and thus the Parkinson’s community.
“Get involved in the Parkinson’s community. Find your closest NPF Center of Excellence. Getting involved in that ecosystem is not only going to provide you with a knowledge base to fight the disease, but a support system and the people to help you meet each day with resilience,” Kevin said.
Kevin and his father have been active in the Parkinson’s community for 16 years. Kevin looks at it as both a blessing and a curse. The blessing lies in the resources you gain access to, the people you meet in support groups and the ability to serve the community. “The curse is that you see every stage of the disease,” Kevin said.
Kevin and his father have lived through the disease and its progression together. “I’ve been so impressed with my father’s journey. There have been times when I have been caring for him and those times are really precious. The time that I’m able to be a caregiver and be with him and help him all night and doing everything from start to finish. Those tables have turned from when I was a child and he took care of me. Now I have the honor and privilege of being able to care for him,” Kevin said.
Kevin Burkart is a steering committee member for the National Parkinson Foundation’s Caregiver Summit, which will take place in Portland, OR, on September 19, 2016, at the DoubleTree Portland. Save the date and check back for the link to register. The Summit is open to all caregivers in the Parkinson’s community. You can also see Kevin in some of the videos featured on the CareMAP website.
Kevin Burkart will be doing 300 Imperfect Jumps for Parkinson's on June 15, 2016. visit www.PerfectJumps.com for more information on supporting him or joining the cause and even how to skydive for Parkinson's yourself!