This is a post with permission from David Yon, a Parkinson’s disease patient at the University of Florida Center for Movement Disorders and Neurorestoration in Gainesville, FL.
Wheels up. That phrase has meant good times and has been followed by many fun and challenging experiences that were the source of many good columns. This time the wheels left the ground just after 7:00 a.m., on May 24. Our destination was Burlington and the Vermont City Marathon. My hope was to qualify for the 2014 Boston Marathon; a goal set only after this year’s explosions on Boylston Street. To succeed, I needed cool temperatures. That meant either waiting for late summer (but no later than early September) or compressing the training schedule and targeting a late spring race. I decided on a late spring opportunity and join running friend Felton Wright in Vermont.
My qualifying time for Boston is now 3:40, but it will probably take something closer to 3:30 to be sure I get in. While I once would have been very confident in my ability to get under that time; age, injuries and some health twists have made the task much more challenging. And while the predicted temperature (41) is good for a clear calm day, the prediction for race day is 15 plus miles per hour wind and a 70% chance of rain making for a really miserable morning. It hasn’t stopped raining since we arrived
There is another twist to the journey that led me to Burlington. After undergoing surgery to repair a hamstring, I rebuilt some of my fitness and was feeling pretty good about the results. We never seem to get back to the levels of pre-injury days, but the hamstring healed fully and I was moving in the right direction. At some point though it began to seem as if I was running into a glass wall. What seemed relatively easy one day, seemed hard the next day. Speed work was erratic. It seemed to get worse in the spring of 2012. All my health checks including blood work were good though. So, I struggled between believing something was really wrong and thinking I had just lost my ability to be tough.
Runs through the summer kept getting harder. I was falling more during runs. I had developed what I assumed was a nervous tremble in my right thumb. There were other strange things going on, but nothing I could say meant anything for sure. Then I noticed a little tenderness in my left hamstring – the one I had never had a serious problem with. I had a run where it seemed my right arm was going numb. I waited for a heart attack. It never came of course, but every effort made the hamstring worse until it completely sidelined me.
And then there was The Coaches Run 5K on September 8, a race that honors Mike Schneider, a legendary coach and mentor for middle school runners. Coach Mike died not too long after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s. The race had a small turnout, but I didn’t want people to forget what a wonderful contribution he had made. I wasn’t sure how to spell Parkinson’s though and so I searched on Google and found a very informative website. I noted the correct spelling and then my eyes were drawn to the symptoms listed on the page. I don’t remember exactly, but there were something like 9 symptoms and I could check 7 of them off and the trembling in one thumb now showed up in the other and in my entire arm. I froze in terror and then recoiled in fear when I started reading more about the impact of the disease.
But quickly some good fortune came my way. My primary care doctor referred me to the Center for Movement Disorders at Shands and I became a patient of Dr. Michael Okun. He very well might be the best in the nation at treating the disease. The first thing he said was if you have to have this disease, “This is the kind you want.” The second thing he said was treatments have improved dramatically. The most important thing he said was “You have to keep exercising.” “Yes, throw him into that briar patch,” Mary Jean said.
The road back has not always been easy. Meds take a lot of time for adjusting. It took a lot of intense rehab and time to get the hamstring well, but things have turned around for my running and I believe a lot more improvement is coming. Still, no matter how well things go tomorrow it will be my slowest marathon ever.
Sunday morning still looks wet, windy and cold. The good news is, I will be on the starting line. I hope to raise my fist when I cross the finish line and say: “One day I may not be able to qualify for Boston, but today is not that day. ”
And if I miss it, I will start planning for that late summer effort.
David Yon ran a 3 hour and 24 minute time and qualified for the Boston Marathon in 2014. He is an inspiration to Parkinson’s disease patients around the United States