Team Parkinson at the Los Angeles Marathon 2011

In the beginning…

Eleven years ago, the LA Marathon was run in a cold and windy downpour, and Team Parkinson was a participant in the event for the first time. Everything about the event was new for the Team as they stood in ankle deep ice-water waiting for about twenty Team Parkinson marathon entrants to pass by the cheering station! Over the following ten years, things improved. The weather was usually mild and occasionally downright warm.  Team Parkinson grew in size and expanded its mission during that same period, and our organizational skills and fundraising capability grew with it.

On March 19 and 20, 2011, Team Parkinson had a great weekend in Los Angeles, in spite of the worst weather in over a decade.  This weekend’s weather reverted back to square one -- to an over the top version of that March 2000 event –temperatures in the 40s, winds over 20 knots, over three inches of rain fell on Sunday in heavy micro-bursts! But this time we were seasoned veterans and prepared for just about anything.  Well, the cheering station was once again standing in ankle-deep ice-water, but there were nearly forty Team Parkinson runners to cheer for.

Edna and I had been preparing for months.  We began the gathering, packing and stacking of resources for the Expo and dinner nearly a month before the actual event.  Boxes of T-shirts, race singlets, brochures, solicitation envelopes and dinner giveaways filled the entry-way to our home for weeks before the race weekend actually arrived.  The official Team mini-van was cleaned and prepped.  Responsibility for the Carbo-load Dinner was re-assigned and reorganized because of a change in availability of our fabulous volunteer team. Everything was ready for the party to get started, and we were just waiting for the guests to start arriving.  And they did arrive…

My sister Kippi came in from Denver, Colorado to help out, followed by Carol Walton, our guiding star and CEO of The Parkinson Alliance, our parent organization in Princeton, New Jersey. Pam Waddell came down from Spokane, Washington, and Tiffany Baumann and Lamar Brown came up from San Diego.  When the expo finally opened on Friday March 18, the Team Parkinson booth was fully staffed and ready to rock. And the party pants (that’s what we call our participants) arrived in waves. Several large groups including Sarah Ingersoll’s 5k Training Team, the Ackerberg Team, the Sanceau team, the Ventura County support groups, the Jakowec Team, the Phoenix and the Martinez Team, and our international guests, including David Gray and John Mullan from Glasgow, Scotland, followed by Ian Thomson and his wife Sue from the north of England (Read Ian's story), all came through the booth to pick up their Team Parkinson gear.  We met new people interested in our efforts as well, and spoke to them about the needs of the Parkinson community and our role in funding research. The expo last year had some serious problems, and we were happy to see that the LA Marathon Committee had taken our comments to heart and fixed many of our concerns.  Traffic flow to our booth was much improved and we were far easier to find. 

The Big 5K
It rained Friday night and Saturday morning was cool and cloudy, but the rain held off not only for the morning’s 5K race, but all through the afternoon expo as well. Last year there were complaints about the difficulty of the 5K course from some of the official charities, and so the race organizers worked to improve the 5K starting area; and particularly improved the visibility of the official charities and allowed them to put up tents to gather their participants. You could say that proves how important the charities are to the mission of the LA Marathon.  The race organizers certainly put the charities in the spotlight all through the 5K; and Team Parkinson got a lot of air time at the announcer’s table.  Although they didn’t change the course itself, it appeared that many of the charity teams had prepared themselves better for the hills on the course. That was certainly true for Team Parkinson.

The race was a large loop around Dodger Stadium through Elysian Park along a beautiful, though challenging, course.  I chose to join Team Bill and walked the course in honor of my father who passed away last September.  He loved walking the 5K.  I enjoyed the walk immensely because there was absolutely no pressure to do anything but walk and enjoy the sights.  Everywhere I looked, I saw our bright blue t-shirts.  I must give particular kudos to Team Ackerberg –they were really taking care of business, and making sure Lisette and her entire crew were successful.  Equally successful was Sarah’s 5K training Team with their coach Steve Mackel.  Steve led us all in some warm up drills before the race.  After the race he was seen on-stage with the band, laying down some heavy licks on his bass-guitar.

Altogether, one hundred eight- five Team Parkinson members completed the Big 5K event.

The Carbo-load Dinner
When it came time to organize Saturday night’s Carbo-load dinner, Helen and Tracy Wong stepped in right where Justine Lassoff had to step out due to her new business start-up.  Helen and Tracy worked with the staff at Taix Restaurant to make sure we got a good meal and a properly prepared facility.  Jerry and Mary Kay Woodenberg volunteered to help out at the door making sure all our guests had name tags. With their help, and the continued generous sponsorship from Lee and Rose Stacy and the Norm Reeves Honda Superstore, the evening activities were a complete success. Carol, Edna and I had some speaking duties, and introduced our two primary speakers: Jeffrey Wertheimer, neuropsychologist at Cedars Sinai, and Steve Mackel, coach of Sarah’s 5K Training Team. Jeffrey spoke eloquently on the non-motor aspects of Parkinson’s disease, and Steve gave us a thoughtful and inspirational talk on running the marathon. After dinner, Carol Walton recognized the Ackerberg Team as the top fundraisers for the event with a total of 69 members raising over $18,000 dollars, and then we all headed back to our beds to get ready for Sunday’s Marathon…

The Marathon
As usual, I didn’t see much of the race, because when you are IN the race, all you can see are the few thousand runners in your close vicinity.  What happens up front with the wheelchair racers and the elite runners in the gender challenge is something you find out about later, after you get home and have time to watch it on your DVR. We could hear the announcers launching each successive element of the race, but for us in the back of the pack, the focus was on trying to stay warm and dry while waiting for the multitudes ahead to shuffle slowly across the start line. There were thirty-eight runners for Team Parkinson in the race that morning, spread out through the 26,000 runners awaiting the sound of the air horn for the start of the race; four of us are living with Parkinson’s: Willard Krick, Gary Miller, David Gray and me.

It was cold, and Doug was shivering even before we began to move forward. He seemed a little uncomfortable in the plastic trash bags we had slipped on to protect us from the wind and rain  For Mark, Doug and me it was an eighteen minute delay from the blast of the air horn until we finally reached the start line.  David Gray and Thomas Beck had spent time with us before the race, but planning on a faster pace, they had each slipped ahead to his proper place in the pace corrals.  Willard Krick and his fellow Legacy runner John had been right behind us in the 12-minute/mile pace group, but we lost sight of them even before we reached the actual start.  Once we were on the race route we tried to find a pace I could live with that wouldn’t punish both Mark and Doug by forcing them to constantly wait on me. As it turned out, Doug was just too cold to hang back with me; he needed to run faster to stay warm so we let him go on ahead.  Mark and I settled into a comfortable rhythm of running when I felt good and walking when I didn’t.  With twenty-four previous marathons under my belt, I knew that if I just managed my resources properly, I could finish this one.

Much of the course was the same as last year, but since I didn’t see a thing last year due to my own personal rainstorm (the death of a close friend) it was all new to me.  I took in the sights of LA with pleasure even as the rain began to fall. We left Dodger Stadium via the Sunset exit, a rather steep downhill, and wound down into Chinatown, passing through the East Gate. From Chinatown we ran to Little Tokyo, and from there we headed off to the Civic Center, up through the financial district, passed by the Federal Courthouse, then climbed the hill to the Disney Center and turned west --headed for Hollywood.  It hadn’t rained hard yet, but it was getting darker as we ran down Sunset and onto Hollywood Boulevard.  We passed by Barnsdall Park, where I had my breakdown last year, and although I still feel the pain of that loss, it is less immediate now.  I kept those thoughts to myself, and concentrated on running under control.  This time I saw the Chinese Theater and other sites along the boulevard.  Mark was his usual ebullient self, talking with the crowds and high-fiving kids along the side of the street.
We passed from West Hollywood into Beverly Hills, caught a bit of Rodeo Drive, eventually finding our way down Wilshire to the West Side.  Just after mile 18 we found Steve Mackel’s support tent, and I took on some much-needed refreshment, consisting of heavily-salted, boiled potatoes and a sip of flat Coke. Not exactly a gourmet’s delight, but it did the trick, and we headed west once again. When we turned north toward the Veterans Administration center, the clouds just let go.  Any wetter and I would have been able to call it the swimming leg of a triathlon. Entering the VA there was a small hill to climb and a large river to cross.  I didn’t have the agility of the race leader who leaped, gazelle-like, over the river to the far bank. I had to plow through it like some oxen pulling a Conestoga wagon, with the water breaking half-way up my shins.  My cold feet had been numb for some time already so the wet socks didn’t pose any additional problems. 

Finally we began the long trek down San Vicente Blvd. to Santa Monica.  Although I knew it was a slight downhill, it all felt uphill to me.  But I knew we were getting close to the finish, and just when we thought we’d made it, turning onto Ocean Blvd, the wind and rain gathered itself for a final blast and nearly took us off our feet.  Mark and I could do nothing but lean into the wind and try not to suck too much water directly into our lungs.  They should have rented out SCUBA gear. When we reached the Team Parkinson cheering station, it was heartening to see the joy on the faces of the die-hard survivors.  Edna leaped across, or rather into, the stream that was flowing along the curb and I felt the momentary warmth of her kiss before Mark and I put our heads down once again and made our way through the downpour to the finish line. The race had been difficult but the finish was truly joyful.  Unfortunately, it got much worse from there.  We had a mile walk to the Civic Center to pick up our stored clothing, and many of the bags had been left out in the rain. Even if we’d had dry clothing, there was no place to change, and I had a two mile walk back into the face of the storm to get back to the condo where Edna, Carol, Pam and Kippi waited.
Thankfully, Edna’s cousin Steve and his wife Sue had taken great care of our small troop of Team Parkinson rooters, and after a warm shower and fresh clothes, I was able to relax and join them. Steve and Sue’s daughter, Robin, finished her first marathon in a wonderful time of 4:07:45.

The total weekend was a smashing success.  We had our greatest number of runners in both races, and everyone we had out there finished, including our Legacy runners Gary Miller and Willard Krick (who took ten hours but made it.)  Our European guests, David and Ian, both ran well and came close to their target times. As far as I know, David established a new record for Parkie runners with a time of 3:38:59. It wasn’t my slowest marathon, but not by much, as Mark and I finished at 5:43:14.

We have raised over $120,000 and expect that to climb a bit before we stop counting. Thanks to all our Team members, whether you ran or walked, raised money or just cheered.  We appreciate all of you, and all you do for us.

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