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Parkinson’s patient touts benefits of bicycling

Friday June 29, 2012

Training: Ann Smith pushes herself to conquer 2012 Seattle-to-Portland Bike Classic
Andrew Fickes

The News Tribune - The Puyallup Valley will see a swarm of bicyclists July 14-15 as 10,000 people will race through the area for the 2012 Seattle-to-Portland Bike Classic.

Among the herd will be Ann Smith, an east Puyallup woman who has committed herself to cycling to ward off the severe symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.

“When I don’t cycle for a couple of days, I get really stiff and get muscle cramping in my legs and feet, and my balance is off,” Smith said. “When I go cycling the next day, I don’t feel stiff anymore.”

In March 2011, Smith was diagnosed by Dr. Alida Griffith, a movement disorder specialist at the Booth Gardner Parkinson’s Care Center in Kirkland.

Three years earlier, on Feb. 2, 2008, Smith had a bad fall. She had pain in her left leg, and had difficulty walking.

“For three years, I was treated with spine injections and other treatments for what doctors thought was causing problems with my left leg,” she said.

Smith, 49, said a physical therapist started to notice excessive muscle tone and involuntary muscle spasms and rigidity in her left leg. He directed her to see a neurologist, whose first diagnosis suspected multiple sclerosis.

And then came Griffith’s diagnosis that told Smith everything.

“I did not want Parkinson’s as a diagnosis but was relieved to know what it was,” Smith said. “For the next couple of months, I read everything I could on Parkinson’s disease. I learned what I should do for myself, and that is to exercise to try and slow down the progression of the disease.”

Smith has early-onset Parkinson’s, which typically affects patients younger than 60. Griffith said exercise is one of the best neuroprotective treatments. Neurons, she said, are produced throughout a person’s lifetime, and exercise is one of the things that seems to stimulate their growth.

“It’s also my personal experience that the patients who exercise regularly and vigorously are better off in terms of their motor and mental symptoms,” Griffith said.

Last November, Smith made a serious commitment to cycling. She enlisted the help of Steve Matson, a Pierce County-based cyclist trainer.

By December, Matson helped Smith search for a sufficient road bike. Her goal was to ride in the 2012 STP Bike Classic.

“I’m giving her the same training plan that I give to any serious athlete,” Matson said. “She is a fierce competitor and determined to become a strong cyclist and delay or defeat the Parkinson’s disease. She is very disciplined and is always on top of her workout calendar.”

Smith’s training schedule has her cycling 12 to 14 hours per week, three weeks out of the month. On the fourth week, Smith has a recovery period during which she performs less-intense cycling and scales her hours down by half.

During the last two weeks before the STP, Smith will scale back her training to relax her muscles. Two days prior to the event, she won’t cycle at all.

“All this training is to make the STP easy and fun and to show other people that, if you have Parkinson’s, you can still cycle,” she said.

Matson said he’s proud of Smith’s progress and commitment.

“She is ready to go,” he said. “I’m proud of her. She’s done a great job preparing. She is an inspiration for other Parkinson’s sufferers.

“She is someone who can help the researchers. If they want to learn how this is beneficial, she’d be a good person to look at.”

Meanwhile, Smith and three other Parkinson’s patients from a Tacoma-based support group have organized the first South Sound Parkinson’s Conference.

Taking place today at the University of Puget Sound, the conference aims to discuss the beneficial impacts that exercise — particularly cycling — has on slowing down Parkinson’s.

Smith will be one of 63 cyclists in the Team Parkinson’s group in the STP Bike Classic. The group is raising funds for the Northwest Parkinson’s Foundation. At press time, Smith had raised $1,300 of her $2,000 goal.

Parkinson’s Conference

South Sound Parkinson’s Conference will be today at 4 p.m. at the University of Puget Sound’s Trimble Hall. The public is welcome to attend. Reservations are not required.

To donate to Ann Smith’s Team Parkinson’s campaign, send a check payable to Northwest Parkinson’s Foundation. Address the envelope to: Team Parkinson’s, Northwest Parkinson’s Foundation, 400 Mercer St., Suite 504, Seattle, WA 98109. Write “Ann Smith” in the memo section of the check to credit her campaign.

Reporter Andrew Fickes can be reached at 253-841-2481, ext. 313, or by email at andrew.fickes@puyallupherald.com. Follow him on Twitter, @herald_andrew.


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