Team Parkinson at the 2008 Los Angeles Marathon

The Los Angeles Marathon weekend is a complicated and well-orchestrated set of activities for Team Parkinson, ordered and shepherded along by Edna Ball, co-chair of the organization. There are multiple events, overlapping responsibilities and individual personalities to be considered. Somehow, for the eighth year in a row, Edna pulled it all together, with the help of Carol Walton, CEO of The Parkinson Alliance, Team Parkinson’s parent organization, and Justine Lassoff, who coordinated the preparation of the carbo-load dinner for well over 100 team members.

Team Parkinson must also thank our corporate sponsors for their financial support which allows us to insure that 100% of all net proceeds from the event go to support research for a cure.

Our premier sponsor for the event was:

Supporting sponsors were:

H.N. and Frances C. Berger Foundation

Paul W. Zucchaire Foundation

The Kenneth Aidekman Family Foundation

Norm Reeves Honda Superstore

The two days of the Quality of Life Expo in the LA Convention Center were busy and productive, with team members gathering for t-shirts, bib-numbers, and instructions. That was followed by a truly memorable dinner at Taix French Restaurant on Sunset Boulevard. Speakers for the dinner included Carol Walton, and Team Parkinson co-chairs John and Edna Ball. In addition, Dr. Allan Wu of UCLA and Dr. Mickie Welsh of USC brought dinner guests up to date on the studies being funded by Team Parkinson grants at both of these fine university medical schools. It was announced at dinner that the research grants to both schools will be doubled in the next year, bringing them to $50,000 each.

Early on Sunday morning March 2nd, 16 Team Parkinson bicycle riders took to the streets for a quick 25 mile loop around LA. They were joined by approximately 15,000 additional riders to make it a bit more interesting. .

Then, not long enough later, 150 team members went in search of parking and the 5k run. For those team members who made it through from start to finish, it was a very special feeling to finish in that sea of blue t-shirts. I wish I could talk about everyone who participated, because there is a story behind each and every one. I must mention that my 87-year old father Bill, my wife Edna, and my son David all finished the event: three generations all supporting the effort to find a cure for Parkinson’s disease. Our largest group of walkers came from Team Ackerberg, with nearly fifty people supporting Lisette Ackerberg. Team Ackerberg was also the largest fundraising group, bringing in approximately $20,000.

The Los Angeles Marathon was run for the 23rd time that Sunday morning. There were nearly 25,000 runners and walkers in the race. Of these, there are just over 250 people who have run each and every one of the previous twenty two races, regardless of the excessive heat or pouring rains, or Santa Ana winds blowing hot and dry. They are called “Legacy” runners. Two of these legacy runners are now living with Parkinson’s disease. Gary Miller and Willard Krick have each been diagnosed with Parkinson’s after nearly 20 years of running marathons. Each of them has had to face up to the challenge of a changing self-concept that comes with this chronic, degenerative disease. Yet they each have persevered and continued to live the life they had planned.

They both finished their 23rd consecutive race, Gary in 5:42:39 and Willard in 7:32:04. Now for those of you who think of yourselves as fit young athletes, those times may seem a bit ordinary, but I must mention that Gary is 67 and Willard 71! Since I’m only 63, I feel like such a youngster when I am with them. Besides, I’ve done less than half the marathons they have. This was only my 12th time to run LA. I had a string going for ten years, but back spasms kept me out of my 11th try. It was my 17th marathon overall, all completed long after my diagnosis of Parkinson’s 25 years ago. My time was 4:49:22.

There are two other team members living with Parkinson’s who finished the LA Marathon this year, and each has a very special place in my heart. I first met Roar Eikenes 2 years ago when he showed up in San Francisco - totally unexpected - to run for Team P. He came all the way from Norway to run for the team after discovering us on the web. As a young man, Roar had set himself a personal goal of completing 50 marathons by his fiftieth birthday. But he was interrupted on his way by a diagnosis of Parkinson’s in his early 40s. For several years he struggled to live with those altered expectations and unfulfilled goals, and then he decided to get back in control of his life. In his 50s, he trained hard through deep Norwegian winters and reentered the field of the marathon. He was 57 when we met him in San Francisco, and it was his 44th marathon, his 4th since his diagnosis. Last year, 2007, he ran five marathons, including LA, Rio de Janeiro, Moscow, New York and the Great Wall of China, which brought him back to LA for a very special race: his 50th marathon, and his 10th with PD. Hey, it may be a few years later than he originally planned, but his adjusted goal was to finish 50 before his 60thbirthday.

Roar was not to be denied. He started fast, and I finally caught up to him somewhere around mile 17. We ran together for more than a mile and I hoped we could go through our cheering station together just beyond the mile 19 marker. But just shy of the mile marker he was cramping in his left thigh, and he motioned for me to go on. I knew that with his experience and determination, he would make it to the finish line, so I felt good about moving on. Roar made it over the finish in 5:42:06, less than a minute ahead of Gary Miller.

The other runner that I want to mention is Kevin Adams. Kevin is brand new to Team Parkinson. It was his first marathon since his diagnosis of PD, and his first since completing treatment for cancer. Kevin has an incredible attitude and had the courage to take on this challenge with a very short timetable for preparation. His lovely family was behind him all the way and with their support and the hopes of all of Team Parkinson behind him, he completed his journey in 5:39:11. Kevin is just 47 years old, and his children are still in grade school. I have a wonderful feeling that he will be part of Team Parkinson for a while, perhaps leading us all in a few years.

There were 30 runners who finished the marathon wearing the team colors, and all of them were successful in their own way. I can’t help but mention my two fabulous training partners Mark and Doug, who stayed with me through injuries and interrupted training cycles to finish with me once again, and Drs. Michael Jakowec and Giselle Petzinger, who are researching PD at the USC Keck Medical School. It is such a terrific feeling to have them on the team. It was Mike’s third marathon with Team Parkinson and Giselle’s first. Giselle finished in 5:04:43 and Mike in 6:11:19.

Our top performers were Rit Tun, who is the husband of Dr. Jennifer Hui, also of USC Keck Medical School, and Harlye Maya, graduate student in law at GW University in Washington, DC. Rit finished in 3:18:58 and Harlye in 3:19:56. Harlye was the 32nd woman overall, and 6th in her age group. She plans to join the US Marines as a JAG lawyer after finishing her degree.

In total, nearly 200 people were involved in the weekend for Team Parkinson, and combined to raise more than $150,000, pushing our total for the fiscal year (beginning July 1, 2007 through June 30, 2008.) to more than $230,000. We are very proud of all those who walked, bicycled, or ran for Team Parkinson. Our goal remains to put ourselves out of business as fast as possible by finding a cure for this disease.

John Ball
March 10, 2008

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