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My Workout: Exercising to fight Parkinson's

Wednesday December 26, 2012

Nancy Dow

Oregon Live - Who: Barry Carlson, 70, Portland; 5 feet 7 inches, 160 pounds.

For the 35th year in a row, Carlson completed the Roy Webster Cross-Channel Swim in Hood River on Labor Day. Normally he makes the crossing in about 24 minutes but in 2006 he was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. The swim now takes him about 35 minutes. His son Tary follows him in a kayak so he can take breaks. Carlson's wife of 22 years, Sharon Thorne, says, "His determination is strong; his will to finish keeps him at it." Still, this year's swim was likely his last.

The Roy Webster swim, which is not a race, is in its 70th year. It began with just a few hardy souls when orchardist Webster challenged himself to swim the span. These days, around 500 people take the dawn plunge to complete the 1.1-mile crossing.

A native of Minnesota, Carlson made Oregon his home in 1962. His varied career ranged from piloting a corporate jet to being a mortgage banker. He also taught math at several local high schools as well as Portland Community College. He and Thorne have three children between them and four grandchildren. He enjoys being a ham radio operator, including during the Rose Festival parade.

Workout: Carlson no longer swims for exercise because, he says, "My legs don't listen to my brain anymore." But he still maintains quite a workout.

Two to three times a week for 30 to 45 minutes, he works on a strength training and balance routine designed by a physical therapist. Once a week he works with a personal trainer on free weights for 45 to 60 minutes. Twice a week he takes an hourlong class for Parkinson's patients through the Providence health system. And a couple of times a week he and his wife walk the neighborhood or a mall for 35 to 40 minutes. "Exercise is the main salvation for Parkinson's people right now," Carlson says. "There's no cure. I've also been fortunate to participate in several studies at OHSU, mostly around balance."

He's been a hiker for most of his life, along with his family, but it's getting harder for him. He calls Montana's Glacier National Park a hiker's paradise and says he's done most of the trails. He spent summers there growing up while his father worked in the park. His one summer working on a trail crew was "probably the best summer I ever had."

Feedback: Carlson swam competitively in high school and kept at it for fun and fitness. He used to compete at the Masters level. Of today's competitors, such as Michael Phelps, he says, "Just watching these swimmers and how they swim -- it's a totally different exercise now. They used to not encourage us to lift weights. Swimmers are bigger and stronger now. We were pretty puny."

Nutrition: Carlson says he's been at the same weight for a long time. He eats a low-fat, high-fiber diet with lots of produce, chicken and fish. He eats beef maybe twice a month. He made no diet changes after his diagnosis and says there's "not really any connection that anyone knows of." Before the cross-channel swim he eats a hard-boiled egg and a banana. Afterwards he enjoys a big breakfast in Hood River. He takes vitamin D, glucosamine and chondroitin and he likes "McMenamins beers and anything chocolate."

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