My name is Christian, I’m 36 years old and I have young-onset Parkinson’s disease (PD). My goal in life is to inspire and motivate people, helping them believe that anything is possible and every obstacle can be overcome. I stress the importance of exercise, which is the only proven action that can slow PD symptoms from progressing.
I am a happily married with two beautiful kids. I am a full-time professional massage therapist and an obstacle course trail runner. Until recently, I lived in silence with my condition. I was trying to protect my family, but in reality I was protecting myself. I was afraid I’d lose my job because people wouldn’t want a massage therapist with PD.
My PD story began during a brief time in my life when I was inactive and unhealthy. I was 225 pounds and borderline diabetic. I was 31 and we were expecting our first child. I noticed a slight twitch in my right hand and had frequent heartburn. I saw a gastroenterologist who diagnosed me with fatty liver and gastritis inflammation, but I still had the tremor.
I went to a neurologist, who concluded that I had essential familial tremor and prescribed primidone. I saw her regularly until a new insurance plan caused a gap between appointments, which is when the tremor traveled from my hand to my foot. The neurologist implied that the new tremor occurred due to the delay in appointments. Primidone left me mentally foggy so I was switched to Propranolol. But I still felt that something else going on. During this period, I was never motivated to exercise.
In July 2014, I had a DAT-SPEC scan in hopes that it would rule out other conditions and confirm essential tremor. Something felt wrong when the technicians were surprised to see someone my age. Weeks went by. Finally, I saw my doctor and she bluntly said, “Just as suspected you have Parkinson’s. Here is some medication and I will see you in three weeks.” I was 34. I did not understand the diagnosis or the new medications.
I developed insomnia and grew incredibly depressed. The news of Robin Williams having PD and Lewy body dementia hit me. I started losing my mind over this condition. I kept thinking “stop shaking, I can control this.” My wife did not know what to do until a friend recommended a movement disorders specialist. He confirmed the PD diagnosis and changed my dosages. He spent almost two hours explaining Parkinson’s and assured me that I would be able to live a full life with PD. He also said that EXERCISE is essential in slowing the rate of progression.
It took several months to regulate my medication. My wife signed us up for a 5K jingle bell run. The whole family ran and had a great time. We all dressed like Santa. This was my first race. It felt great to run.
My wife signed us up for another race, which changed my life. I trained for a 5K. On race day I realized it was actually the Spartan Super 9-10 mile obstacle course. I was terrified. From the beginning I was in complete agony, but I didn’t quit. Some obstacles took a few attempts, but I flipped my first 300-pound tire, falling face down on it in the process. I took my time at each obstacle. I ran full speed at an 8-foot wall, grabbing the top of it and nearly breaking my foot. Hiding my PD for so long made me isolated so when a fellow Spartan asked if I was okay, referring to my foot, I ended up telling him I had PD. It was the first time I told anyone outside of my family. He helped me over the wall. For the next five miles I limped and hobbled through obstacles. Thinking of my family and children kept me going. That day I become a Spartan and a warrior against the battle of PD.
I started training regularly. Today, I weigh 165 pounds and I am a lean mean muscle machine. I lost weight and ate healthier in hopes that a new lifestyle would slow my PD progression. Since then I have completed five Spartan races, becoming the first person with PD to complete a Spartan Trifecta. I will compete in several more this year. My wife is a personal trainer and helps me train, not only for races, but to be a better father and husband.
I train like an elite athlete now. I have run a 6:15 mile. I am a trail runner, which helps my balance and proprioception. I lift weights to have better control of my body. I cross train with boxing and agility plyometrics at DopaMind boxing, which combats PD and effectively stimulates neurocognitive pathways.
PD is a part of me, but does not define me. In fact, it has elevated me to another level of grit, determination and perseverance that has transcended me in all aspects of my life. I want to inspire and spread awareness of how exercise helps people with PD. I am getting certified in personal training so I can help people with Parkinson’s. I once viewed my condition as a death sentence. Now I look at it as if I was chosen to do great things. I strive to run side by side with Allison Toepperwien, the first person with PD to compete on “American Ninja Warrior.”
I want to tell people with PD that whatever you decide, keep moving and don’t ever give up. One foot after another, move with forward progress. Don’t give up on me because I won’t give up on you. When the struggle is all you know, fighting becomes natural and quitting becomes impossible.