My PD Story

Molly Donelan climbing rock wall
Health Professionals

Molly Donelan

I first met Jon Lessin in October of 2012. Jon is an accomplished doctor, published author, father, husband, cyclist, yogi, jokester and now, addicted climber. Jon also has Parkinson's disease (PD).

When Jon started taking lessons with me, I knew very little about PD other than a couple of generalized symptoms. Working with Jon was a huge learning experience and he seemed eager to answer every little question I asked.

With the help of Sportrock and Jon, we started a free climbing session for people with Parkinson’s disease and have grown the group tremendously. Sportrock Climbing Centers has even partnered with the capital area’s PFNCA to undertake the first-ever study in the U.S. on Parkinson’s and climbing with George Washington University. You can read the results of that study here: Impact of Rock Climbing on Complex Tasks in Persons with Parkinson’s Disease.

I have devoted much of my time to learning the ins and outs of this disease and the Parkinson’s Foundation website is where I started my online educational journey.

I believe that rock climbing is an amazing activity for those living with PD. While there is no cure for this neurodegenerative disease, unquestionably helps slow the progress, gives relief to some of the symptoms and creates a social network. There is much debate as to which exercise is the absolute best for Parkinson’s but working at a high level of intensity is fairly universal in its importance.

Molly Donelan teaching climbing

According to Lisa Ebb, a movement disorder Physical Therapist who has joined in climbing with a couple of the climbers, “Challenge and variation are the two most important principles of exercise in Parkinson’s disease.

Not only does climbing force you to work at a high level, but it also challenges participants with varied movements, repetitive movements, big dynamic movements, small, controlled movements as well as flexibility, balance and stability. Perhaps most importantly though, are the cognitive skills acquired through climbing and neuroplasticity changes that can occur.

While I do not have PD myself, I have learned through many of my friends at Sportrock that being proactive in your treatment is paramount. I have seen firsthand what exercising regularly, eating the right foods, eliminating stress and keeping a good support system can do for you over the years. I am a firm believer in whatever exercise program you can stick with is the best one for you.

For anyone newly diagnosed, let the beautiful words of Ijeoma Umebinyuo be your mantra.

Start now. Start where you are. Start with fear. Start with pain. Start with doubt. Start with hands shaking. Start with voice trembling but start. Start and don’t stop. Start where you are, with what you have. Just...start.


Find a Parkinson’s-tailored exercise class near you at or call the Parkinson’s Foundation Helpline at 1-800-4PD-INFO (473-4636).

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