All the available evidence indicates that exercise is one of the best, if not the best, therapies for Parkinson’s disease. It’s good for anyone, of course, but particularly good for those of us who must consciously decide to make every movement.
At the end of a long day, my eyes are often burning and red. Not because I’ve been weeping with joy over my latest Amazon royalty check (last month’s was for $3.13), but because I have forgotten to blink my eyelids. Yes, I have to remember to blink, and if I don’t, the trickle of tears down my cheeks reminds me. When I walk, I often have to remember to consciously place my feet slowly and carefully, so I don’t shuffle and lean forward. If you go on a long walk with me, you’ll find that I don’t converse all that much when I walk, and I never chew gum. The only multitasking I do when I walk, it seems, is to mutter to myself. It irritates my wife Amy to no end, because she thinks it’s evidence of incipient dementia. It’s not; I’m merely saying “heel; toe, heel; toe…”to myself, sotto voce, so I don’t end up skipping down the street on my toes, and eventually on my hands and knees.
In my pre-PWP past, I was fairly active, and fancied myself an athlete. I scuba-dived, skied, ran, played tennis, rode a bicycle, and was willing to try anything except dancing (I was the victim of an unfortunate dancing accident in college which left me traumatized. Amy’s feet recovered, but my self-respect never did). I still try to remain active with Rock Steady Boxing, shooting, and a renewed interest in biking, but I doubt I’ll ever climb a mountain or hike across a continent again. I may be wrong, though – my friend Alex Flynn shows me that anything is possible.
I have written that some of the bravest people I know are PWPs. Alex is one of the people I think of when I say that. Alex was born in the UK, but got to Texas as fast as he could, and now lives in Houston. He is the father of three boys, and he is an adventurer, writer, athlete, and world traveler. He also has Parkinson’s disease.
He was diagnosed in 2008, and decided that basic fact was not going to change who he was. Since then, he has walked, run, hiked, biked, kayaked, climbed and otherwise moved under his own power for over ten million meters, or roughly 6200 miles. Across five continents and 16 countries, through snow and blazing sun, in mountains, rivers, deserts, and jungles, he keeps moving, and he’s not done yet.
He writes and speaks about his journey, and has expertise in media and film production, so his stories not only sparkle with wit and authenticity, they’re also professional and accessible. I spoke with Alex on the phone a couple of weeks ago, and was again amazed at the power of his spirit and personality. He’s a world-class athlete in his own right, PD be damned, but more importantly, Alex is a world-class inspiration.
He’s not without fears and difficulties. Only a fool faces adversity without a ripple of fear or a touch of anxiety, and Alex is not that. He is courageous. Courage, by my definition, is having fears and uncertainties, and doing the right thing anyway. The “right thing” changes with circumstance, but the truly courageous find it regardless.
Alex was recently a member of an expedition on the Kungsleden (King’s Trail) in Sweden, above the Arctic Circle. He was not the “special guest star” or the “guy with PD” riding in the snowcat – he was an expedition member, and his colleagues relied on him as much as he relied on them. As fate sometimes ordains, he tore a tendon in his his ankle badly on the very first day of the expedition. He was able to complete 30 kilometers of a planned 450 km trek, pulling a 135 lb pulk (a Finnish toboggan) through mountain passes and over frozen lakes, before his duct-taped ankle gave way. He had trained for months to be there, and everything but his ankle was ready to follow the path of other great Arctic explorers, but he realized that he was a liability to the team and he chose to drop out. His team could have probably carried him, but that’s not Alex. Alex is courageous, and not just when the sun shines and the breezes are gentle. In pain, managing crushing disappointment and an uncertain future, he is courageous.
He’s not done yet, either. His next major adventure, which he shared with me during our recent phone call (and which I can’t remember if I’m supposed to hold in confidence, so I will anyway), is epic in scope and inspiring beyond belief. My sense is that Alex doesn’t do these things for glory, though; he uses the talents he’s been gifted with to show us all that we don’t have to fold up and die at bad news or a seemingly insurmountable challenge. Even in pain, managing crushing disappointment, and facing an uncertain future, we can all find courage.
If you’d like to read more about Alex Flynn, visit http://alexflynn.co.uk. If you’d like him to come speak at your event or to your group, contact him directly. You won’t regret it.