2004 Bloomsday Marathon in Spokane, WA.

Stella and SteveIt was a very special moment when Steve Evans of Spokane, Washington decided to look for a marathon to run. Steve was fiftyish at the time and had been running in Spokane’s biggest running event, the Bloomsday Run, for several years, but also has Parkinson’s disease. Not only does Steve have PD; he made the decision to run a marathon while he was recovering from brain surgery. The surgery, performed in May 2002, required several hours, during which two electrical stimulators were implanted deep in his brain, and a control and battery pack implanted in his chest. Steve was the first patient in Spokane to undergo simultaneous bi-lateral placement - which implants stimulators in both sides of the brain in a single extended operation. The Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) technique is the newest surgical technology for treating the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. It is not a cure for the disease, but it is the latest step toward symptomatic relief. Steve knew that the surgery had significantly improved his response to the disease, and reduced the amount of medication required to function each day. In fact, he felt so much better that he felt ready to take on a marathon.

After a brief web search, Steve found Team Parkinson at the LA Marathon. It seemed like a perfect match. It gave Steve a target to train for, and it provided an opportunity to raise money for Parkinson’s disease research. In its brief five-year history, Team Parkinson has contributed over $250,000 toward scientific research to find a cure for PD. Every penny of that money has been collected by runners, walkers and bike riders just like Steve who want to see an end to this devastating neurological disease. In March of 2003, Steve came to LA with his wife Sue, his sister Stella and her fiance Jerry Martin, a wheelchair athlete who was also entered in the marathon. They brought with them over $2000 they had raised for Team Parkinson. Steven and Stella ran and walked the marathon together in just over 7 hours while Jerry raced with the lead group of wheelchair athletes. During the weekend activities, they met an enthusiastic group of Parkinson’s advocates and athletes, including May May Ali, Muhammad Ali’s eldest daughter. They were so inspired by the entire weekend that they decided to take Team Parkinson home with them.

Steve and Stella decided to import Team Parkinson to Spokane’s famous Bloomsday Run. The problem was that the Bloomsday Run had never sponsored any official charities in its 27-year history. It was a challenging task, but Steve and Stella were not to be denied, after all, they had finished a marathon and knew that anything is possible if it’s important enough. After Steve and Stella had presented their case to the Bloomsday Board of Directors, it became clear that there was a good reason for Bloomsday to make Team Parkinson its first official charity. In fact, the former director of the Board, Bill Johnson, was suffering from Parkinson’s. There was also the opportunity to link-up with the Parkinson’s Regional Center (PRC). Together, Team Parkinson and the PRC became Bloomsday’s first charity partners.

Steve trained diligently for the race, and was named the official “celebrity starter” while Stella worked intensely to get publicity and recognition for the team. Together with Steve’s wife Sue, they planned for, and manned the Team Parkinson Booth at the fitness expo, and planned a “Carbo-load dinner” similar to the one they had experienced in LA. With additional help from Carol Walton, Executive Director of the Parkinson Alliance, and her family, they lined up speakers and brought nearly 100 members of the Parkinson’s community together for a magnificent evening to honor Bill Johnson and Dennis Walters, a Spokane police officer and frequent Bloomsday runner with Parkinson’s. Carol Walton started off the evening by introducing her nephew Mike Curry to sing the National Anthem, and John Ball, who co-chairs Team Parkinson with his wife Edna, to say a few words about the history of Team Parkinson. She then turned the podium over to Steve Evans and Stella Martin, the local coordinators for Team Parkinson - Spokane. They spoke briefly about the challenges of starting a new team, and thanked the many people involved in bringing the event to a reality. They also recognized Lois and Bob Wynecoop as the top fundraisers for the event. Altogether, Team Parkinson - Spokane was able to raise over $23,000 in their first year effort!

During the dinner, Al Odenthal, current director of the Bloomsday Board, spoke movingly about the new dimension that the official charities have created between the community and the race organizers, and sounded optimistic about a continuing relationship. Roland Hewitt, representative for Novartis Pharmaceuticals, premier sponsor for the event, offered his enthusiastic support for future events. And Dr. David Greeley, head of Steve’s DBS implantation team, spoke movingly about how he had chosen neurology as his specialty in spite of the limited help the field offered patients at the time. His message of significant on-going change in the field gave hope to those present both for improved care and support and for a cure in the foreseeable future. The dinner was a tremendous success from any point of view, and that left only one thing on the agenda: get up in the morning and run the Bloomsday.

The race was fantastic! With 43,000 participants, it is one of the largest running events in the world. Steve Evans, with a small group of his Team Parkinson supporters, waved the official starting flag for his brother-in-law Jerry Martin and the rest of the wheelchair field; then a few minutes later launched the elite women’s field, followed a few minutes later by the elite men and the entire mix of everyday runners. Steve and his teammates Bill Curry and John Ball watched the huge field parade by for a couple of minutes before jumping into the flow. And then there was nothing left but to run.

The weather was clear and beautiful. The sun was bright but not overwhelming. And the road was filled to the brim with runners and walkers as far as the eye could see. Patches of teal blue Team Parkinson t-shirts were very visible throughout the flow of runners as they streamed by each of the mile markers. A couple of miles into the race, John got separated from Steve and Bill, and the mass of athletes was so large that there was no hope of finding each other again. So John ran his own pace, hoping to keep up with the blond seven-year-old who pranced along with her father just up ahead for the next several miles, while Steve and Bill settled into their own comfortable pace. Steve finished his seventeenth or eighteenth Bloomsday that morning, while Bill remembered running in the first Bloomsday ever held and relished the fact that he was able to finish this one nearly thirty years later. There were over 40 Team Parkinson participants in this year’s Bloomsday run, and with any luck at all there should be double that many next year!

Congratulations to Steve and Sue, Stella and Jerry, and all the members of Team Parkinson - Spokane for a terrific success. You have put together a successful team, and a successful fundraising effort. Let’s keep pushing that success until we no longer need it and a cure for Parkinson’s disease is in our hands.

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