Thursday, August 16, 2012

Freezing and Unfreezing: One More Step

One of the goals of the Fifty Weeks to Fifty Miles at Fifty Years project is to learn more about Parkinson’s. Not long after I decided to raise money for the Michael J. Fox Foundation by running for Team Fox, our local Parkinson’s group brought in Dr. Mark Stacy, a leading doctor studying and treating Parkinson’s patients at the Duke University Medical Center.

Dr. Stacy no doubt had a presentation prepared, but very quickly turned the hour into a question and answer session. An overflow crowd filled the 500 seat auditorium, and the questions varied from medications to symptoms to treatments. At one point, he talked about freezing, an effect of the wearing off of some drug treatments, an unpredictable occurrence that often results in the patient falling. For whatever reason, the patient just can’t move, sometimes in mid-step. 

They say that the solution to the freezing is not to pull or push or, it seems, even touch the patient. Rather you develop a cue that unlocks movement. Harry Truman, Dr. Stacy told us, taped lines in his office, and told himself to step over the line when he froze in place. Dr. Stacy told another story about tying a tennis ball to a woman’s walker so it hung just off the floor. She would kick the ball to regain movement. 

For me, it has been the thought of others that has allowed me to continue. The night before I ran the Mayor’s Midnight Sun Marathon in Anchorage as part of the Team in Training, I wrote the names of the family members I was running to honor, and realized immediately--like, really, unmediated, as I wrote--that I would finish the marathon no matter what happened. Not finishing would diminish the honor I wanted to show my loved ones, at least in my mind. 

At EO's induction into the WVU Sports
Hall of Fame. His success was largely
a factor of hard work, endurance and patience
So here, when I write about taking just one step, and the endurance that taking that step requires, I’m not thinking that running has taught me that. I think that my father’s effort and endurance, and my sister adds, patience, are qualities I want to emulate in my running; I think that life has taught me that. When I am struggling at the Ice Age 50 next May, I will remember my father’s endurance and patience.

And I wouldn’t say that none of the lessons I’ve learned running make sense in life: “double-knot your shoes,” and “carry water” come to mind. Andy Jones-Wilkins, a runner I admire, links much more high-minded running lessons to carry into life, and I always like reading his posts. 

But at least in this project, and in the others where I’ve tried to raise money and awareness, it’s really been more of my finding the lessons in life. Others who like me are mid-pack people, which makes them even more heroic for their strength, making their way through life the best they can--those are my examples. No search for celebrity pushes the race, just plain old finishing. 

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