Each month, we spotlight people in our community who have inspiring stories to tell. Today, we are happy to feature Judith Wilson from Denver, CO.
WHAT HAS YOUR JOURNEY BEEN LIKE SINCE YOUR PARKINSON’S DIAGNOSIS?
As do most July days on Colorado’s Front Range, the day dawned, cool but warming rapidly, giving clues of impending heat. Four days earlier, we had observed our fortieth wedding anniversary. Our three adult children had all established their own living situations, leaving us with a true “empty nest.” My husband, Ken, was 25 years into a solid career as an electrical design engineer. I was approaching the completion of a dozen years of my dream work as a staff family physician for a community health center, most recently at the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless. I was beginning to think a bit about retirement but was thinking about 70 as a nice round number. That gave me seven or eight more years of practice before that central transition point of life. I was only mildly concerned about an impending visit later in the day with a neurologist to whom my primary care physician had referred me. After all, I was in good physical condition (or so I thought). I took good care of myself, despite a much-too-heavy and intense work life. Besides, physicians don’t get chronic, debilitating, incurable, and progressive neurological medical conditions. They have an automatic free pass. So much for denial.
I had been carefully ignoring several things I knew were not “normal” or common in otherwise healthy adults in their early 60’s. Sneaking suspicions showed up occasionally, suggesting that this was not “just one of those things” that, if I ignored it long enough, it would just go away. In those rare moments when I allowed myself to think clearly and directly about my situation, I was much too close to certain to be so casual about what was happening, but I maintained the non-stressed façade. Until 3:30 on July 21, 2011, when my entire world was turned upside down – as was that of my husband of 40 years. Soon, the results of that afternoon consultation with a movement disorder specialist would begin to trickle into all aspects of (and to many people involved in) my life.
When my new movement disorder specialist informed me that my number one prescription was exercise and even went so far as to hand me a written prescription with instructions about what and how much exercise I should do as a start, I knew movement would soon become an integral part of my life.
I explored many options: cardio, martial arts, boxing, strength and balance programs, dance, vocal, and art activities. Within a couple of years, I had sampled nearly all the choices available. I had, by this time, arrived at most of the elements I wanted to include in my regular exercise regimen – strength and balance exercises, yoga, and boxing. The publicity surrounding the importance of cycling in the treatment of Parkinson’s also caught my attention, and conversations with several of my Parkinson’s peers led to my decision to give spinning/cycling a trial place in my regular exercise schedule.
I had never been a bicyclist. In my pre-teen years, I had ridden a resurrected old bike on our farm, and for one brief summer in my mid-life years, I rode an old, somewhat refurbished three-speed bike. That was about it. A cyclist I was not.
However, as I was increasingly exposed to the world of Parkinson’s spinning, I began to appreciate how good I felt after the cycling sessions. I met other people with Parkinson’s who were already committed to the cycling activity as a part of their exercise schedules, so without even trying, I had found a new Parkinson’s family! And my search for a complementary linchpin exercise to complete my regimen was done. I settled into the Pedaling For Parkinson’s™ (PFP) piece quite comfortably. It gave me an overall sense of satisfaction, and I knew I would be in it for a long time to come.
As I began to settle into my regimen, I found that I was more and more looking forward to the class sessions of spinning/cycling. The workouts were challenging, and I knew I had been through a serious workout by the end of each class. I was finally truly aware of the companionship and camaraderie of the group with which I exercised regularly. Initially, feeling like I imagine a fish out of water might feel, I quietly kept my own counsel, enjoying the banter and conversation going on around me but not engaging. Until that is, another member of the class – a rather gregarious fellow, to say the least, started talking directly to me.
He always wanted to know how I was doing with Parkinson’s and generally. And he always asked if I wanted to ride RAGBRAI with them. He asked me to consider it perhaps 20-25 times before I even mentioned it to my husband. Ken was immediately enthusiastic, but I was sure that I had the perfect excuse: two specific problems I could not overcome. First, I had Parkinson’s, which carries the inherent danger of falling (which was already of some concern before the advent of this ridiculous idea). Second, and of even greater importance, the simple fact that not only was I not a biker (in my own head), but I had no bicycle.
One week later, we became the (proud) owners of a gorgeous royal blue KHS tandem. Now I was really in trouble! My Parkinson’s riding companion continued to encourage us to take the leap and try day rides ranging from 30-60 miles.
In July 2015, we rode our first RAGBRAI. The tale of that adventure will have to wait for another time, for the story could fill a book! Safe to say, we were novices of the first order. We finished what was probably the most ungraceful ride in the history of the RAGBRAI experience – with me saying “Never again” and Ken gently counseling me not to worry about next year, but that of course, we would ride again. I comforted myself with the knowledge that we would CERTAINLY NOT be asked to return for the 2016 ride.
Alas, again, I was seriously wrong. For some reason I have not yet fathomed, we were asked to ride with the Cleveland Clinic Pedaling for Parkinson team in 2016…and 2017…and 2018…and 2019…and then came COVID-19 – no RAGBRAI – or anything else. To put a quick finish to this tale, we learned a LOT from our first RAGBRAI. The changes we made from 2015 to 2016 and each year after that had a very positive effect on our ride each succeeding year.
HOW DO YOU LIVE WELL EACH DAY?
One of the beautiful things about the Pedaling For Parkinson’s program is that we do it year-round because it’s an indoor-based activity. That means PFP participants can maintain a consistent training regimen at all times. “Episodes,” such as the PFP team’s participation in the annual RAGBRAI ride, is an extra benefit that’s available for the taking, or not if that is not where “it” is for you. As you may have surmised by now, I am a convert and a firm disciple of the Pedaling For Parkinson’s cycling program, through which more and more people with Parkinson’s are gleaning the benefits of cycling as part of a vigorous, high-intensity exercise program to combat Parkinson’s.
WHAT DO YOU WISH YOU WOULD HAVE KNOWN EARLIER IN YOUR PARKINSON’S JOURNEY THAT YOU KNOW NOW?
Return, if you will, to the earlier part of my story when I thought I could avoid all of this silly business of cycling. Slowly, as I shared my apprehension about the projected RAGBRAI journey with a small group of friends and a few family members, I began to realize that I had not even considered tapping into my family’s support. Or, perhaps even more importantly, the support of my growing Parkinson’s family. Finally, I overcame those self-imposed limits, I took the plunge, and Ken and I were off on a new set of adventures. It took a lot of bumps and a few bruises along the way, but I finally felt there was a place for me (for us) in the picture of a bunch of cyclists working to help advance the cause of solving the mysteries of Parkinson’s.
WHAT DO YOU WISH EVERYONE LIVING WITH PARKINSON’S KNEW ABOUT LIVING WELL?
- There is no time like the present
- You will never be any younger; so, don’t waste your time
- You will develop another family. The Parkinson’s universe continues to increase in circumference – be part of it!
- There are lots of people just beginning something new – today. Be one of them
- Share your humanity. Speak your doubts. You will be heard. You will receive the help you need
Start by asking questions. Start by enrolling in a class. Start by showing up – first time, every time. Start by looking in the mirror and saying, “I can do this.” Then, go do it.
SHARE YOUR VICTORY
Each month, we spotlight someone from our Parkinson’s community who embodies living well today – what we call Moments of Victory®.
Your story, like Judith’s, could be featured on our blog and Facebook page so others can learn from your experiences and victories.