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Whispers on the Run

Friday August 24, 2018

Whispers on the Run

I enjoy running. Most people think I'm nuts for saying that, but it gives me time to think, to roll thoughts over in my head. The rhythm of my footsteps and breath work almost like a meditation for me. However, in the last four years, the reflections are interrupted by whispers in between the musings. The whispers tell me not to run. I might trip on a stick or drag a foot across a crack in the pavement resulting in an awkward face plant. The whispers come from Parkinson's, and they are insidious. Slowing or stopping movement all together leads to an ever steepening spiral in the condition.

I was inspired to start running by watching my daughter run high school cross-country during her sophomore year. Sure I was 57 years old, but I was in good shape and felt I could still run. I finished my first 5k with a painfully slow time, but I did run almost all of the race, that was encouraging!

My next 5k was much faster, and I ran the entire race. By next fall, I finished my first half-marathon. I even enlisted the help of a running coach via the InternetI was well hooked by the running life! But, even as I finished the 2013 Portland Half-Marathon with my personal best half-marathon time, the whispers were beginning.

I was starting to notice asymmetry in my running gait. My right side seemed slower than my left side. When I walked my right arm didn't swinghow odd was my first thought. Maybe it's just part of the aging process was another thought. My twitching little finger on my right hand told me a different story.

I started training for the 2014 Portland Marathon. Alas, it was not to happen: my right side became progressively more rigid, and I sought help from a local physical therapist. The PT helped, but not enough to allow me to reach the distances I needed for a marathon. My finger twitches progressed to the entire right hand, and the hand now had a regular tremor. I finished one more half-marathon and then decided it was time for a doctor's visit. I strongly suspected Parkinson's, but my physician sent me through the usual barrage of tests. An MRI showed nothing, so the next stop was the neurologist's office. The diagnosis was Parkinson's.

The whispers were telling me to stop running. Take it easy for a while. My MDS, Doctor Burdick, told me, "don't stop, keep doing what you're doing. Continue running and practicing Tai Chi (a martial art I've practiced for many years)exercise slows the disease."

I took his advice to heart. I still run, still practice Tai Chi and have even added Yoga and agility training to my repertoire. I may not run as fast or as smoothly as I once did, but I still enjoy a 5k run down the White River trail through the fresh green forest. And the whispers, the ones that want me to stop, they are drowned out by the sounds of the river and slaps of my running shoes against the trail.

- Bill Clugston, NW Parkinson's Community Member

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