Ruth Stilwell

Member for

2 years 11 months

My brother, Chris, and I weren’t into running growing up. We started a bit late in life ― in our 40’s. When he started training, he asked if I would train with him. We picked the half marathon in Berlin, OH, for a nice winter run through Amish country. He was already faster than me after a few weeks. It quickly became clear to me that we would not run together since I could not keep up. Race day arrived, and he started the run with a pacer, who eventually told him to just run ahead. We finished that frosty day with Chris’s wife and five children cheering at the finish. That was 2013.  

In 2014, he ran his first marathon, the Fame Marathon. I told him I would run the half marathon and meet him at the finish. A training injury almost made him drop down to the half marathon, but he pushed through and finished! In 2015 he ran the Air Force Marathon. That same December he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease (PD).

“Can I still run and bike?” Chris asked his doctor. Luckily, the answer was yes and that prolonged exercise was good for him. He decided to sign up for the Akron race series — an 8K, half and marathon, each six weeks apart. He asked me if I could fly up and run with him in the shorter versions of the races. He knew I was already set to run in a marathon that year and that I had a strict one marathon a year policy, but his sense of humor was intact. “It’s a good chance to come up and see the kids and you know, I have Parkinson’s,” he said.

All the dates seemed to work and although I wanted to sign up for the shorter races, if my brother was running the long races with Parkinson’s, I have no excuse. We ran all three, and of course, he had to wait nearly an hour at the marathon finish line for me!  

Chris told me that running long distance gave him a few hours of relief from his tremors. Exercising felt good for him and even after the race ended he felt control over his muscles for a few hours. There were still other symptoms, but he felt relief while it lasted. So, he kept running when he could. 

The last year and a half have been hard, the disease has progressed faster than we expected, well, faster than we were prepared for. He started stubbing his toes a lot because he can’t always pick up his feet. Running became more of a challenge, but he keeps at it. We decided last October when our uncle, a Marine Veteran of the Vietnam war died, that we would run for him. His funeral was exactly one year from the Marine Corps Marathon and we decided to run it in his honor as Parkinson’s Champions.

Chris didn’t know how hard the year would be for him. He didn’t know he would get sick. He barely made it through a flu that turned into an infection that turned into Sepsis. He was so weak he couldn’t sit up on his own. It took physical therapy to get him to walk again. But through it all, he never stopped talking about the marathon. He even sent me pictures during his rehab, with a therapist pulling him up saying he was “marathon training.”

We don’t say it out loud, but we know that when we get to the start line this year, that it will be his last marathon. It’s getting too difficult for him to do many of the things he loves because his body won’t let him do them. Running, what provides him relief, won’t be something he can do much longer.  

This race is important, it is still a tribute to our uncle, but it has become so much more. It is Chris’s fight against Parkinson’s, his chance to do something he loves one more time before the disease takes it away from him but running it as a Parkinson’s Champion allows him to help others fighting the disease.

Two years ago, he had to wait an hour for me at the finish line, this year, he is worried about making the running time limit. That is why I am proud to be part of Parkinson’s Champions — anything we can do to help other families dealing with Parkinson’s gives us hope, a reason to do more and to help others fight.

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