John Ball's Presentation at the LA Carbo Dinner

While the LA Marathon turned 25 this March, Team Parkinson enjoyed a milestone of its own. Team Parkinson began its second decade!  We started with the idea to use the power of the media surrounding such a big event to draw attention to the needs of the Parkinson’s disease community, and to raise money for research to help find a cure.  Since that first effort in 2000, we have added one more goal for our team – to empower patients with PD to take charge of their condition and live life more fully. 

I think we can safely say that we have been successful with our first two goals: to raise awareness and funding for research.  We have had individual runners and teams representing Team Parkinson all over America, and in several races around the globe.  In our first ten years, we have taken Team P to Austria, Australia, Norway, and Japan, and we have raised nearly 2 million dollars for PD-specific research along the way.  We have committed annual grants of $50,000 for both UCLA and USC Departments of Neurology for the last couple of years.  Team Parkinson can be proud of its success in reaching these two goals.

But I have to admit to a personal bias in favor of our third goal, empowering people to take on their challenges and achieve a better quality of life.  When I ran my first marathon here in LA in 1996, I thought I was alone in the effort. In fact, I didn’t know whether anyone else with Parkinson’s had ever finished a marathon.  It had taken me 13 years of running after my diagnosis to build up the courage and the training-base to even contemplate running such a distance.  But in 1996 the sun, moon and stars aligned with the proper planets (remember when Pluto was still a planet?) and my employer became the corporate sponsor of the LA Marathon.  All around me at work, people were training for the marathon. People I thought had no business getting their hopes up were committing themselves to the task, and I watched them getting stronger and leaner day by day, week by week. Finally, I realized they were really going to do it, while I sat and scoffed.  It took a pretty big kick in the butt, but I finally jumped into training for the big one with just two months to go to race day. Well, I pushed myself pretty hard, pushed the mileage up too quickly and inflamed my knee.  It took three weeks of anti-inflammatory drugs, two weeks of physical therapy and a big step into the unknown, but on race day I made it through.  I thought it was a significant achievement.

What I didn’t know was that at least two other runners in the race had been diagnosed with PD.  I didn’t learn about them until months after the race. It wasn’t until 1999 that Mary Yost got the idea to use the LA Marathon for PD fundraising and brought Team Parkinson together.  In 2000, with the help of her nephew and coach, Tom Provost, she became the fourth Parkinson’s patient I knew to complete all 26.2 miles. Sadly, Tom passed away recently, and this year’s race is dedicated to him.

Since Mary’s successful effort, Team Parkinson has helped more than 20 PD patients complete the race, including Jerry Woudenberg, who completed his first marathon at age 73, a year after his diagnosis, and Steve Evans, who finished it just six months after his DBS surgery.  We have had so many successes I cannot detail them all, but I believe that each of them has achieved something special in their lives.  They have proven to themselves that they have power over this disease –yes, they may have PD, but it doesn’t own them or define them.  Their success has given me faith in my belief that exercise and lifestyle decisions are just as important as doctors and medications in treating PD.  By taking action on our own initiative, whether it’s the full marathon or the 5K, or fundraising, or simply coming out to cheer us on, we set the standard for those patients and families who are currently facing a new and terrifying diagnosis.

Together, we know a great deal more about PD than I did when I was diagnosed 26 years ago.  I made a couple of lucky decisions early on - not to give-up on myself, or give-in to self-pity, and to keep myself fit and healthy.  And I have been blessed with a wonderful life and now have the opportunity to make a difference in the PD community.  And you share that opportunity with me.  We are not the victims of a movement disorder; rather, we are the vanguard of a new movement – a new approach to treating the whole patient. We can show the medical community that exercise and wholesome lifestyle choices along with strong support systems are just as important as medications or brain implants in treating and managing Parkinson’s disease.

Team Parkinson provides us a recognized vehicle for making a contribution to the future treatment of PD.  We are, indeed, the vanguard of this new movement.  We have chosen to take charge of our own futures, not to wait patiently for a cure to come. We can show those frightened newcomers that we all have a lot more control of our condition and the quality of our lives than the doctors, or sometimes our own families may expect. For me, this is what Team Parkinson is all about.