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'You just can't give into it': Gregg doesn't back down from Parkinson's

Tuesday April 09, 2013

Greenbaypressgazette.com - When the diagnosis first came in, Forrest Gregg did what he’d always done.

The Green Bay Packers’ Pro Football Hall of Fame tackle brought it before his team.

It wasn’t any of the seven Gregg coached during his 25 years on a football sideline, but rather the one that mattered most to him — his wife, Barbara, his daughter, Karen, and son, Forrest Jr.

All four understood what Parkinson’s disease meant. It’s a condition without cure that strikes more than 50,000 Americans each year and an affliction the veteran of 16 NFL seasons (1959-71) was staring in the eye.

Gregg had come to terms with it, but the one decision that stood before the family was simple: Should Forrest go public?

Described as an iron man for playing 188 consecutive games during one of the hardest-hitting eras in NFL history, Gregg wasn’t looking for sympathy. He wasn’t interested in revenge.

He just wanted to know if he could help.

“I won’t get over this thing. It’ll last,” said Gregg, who will be honored Saturday at Sulphur Springs (Texas) High School as part of the Pro Football Hall of Fame and Allstate Hometown Hall of Famer program.

“I could probably have gone for several years and nobody would’ve ever known. They probably just put it on old age. I thought about it in terms of what I did with the cancer. When I had the cancer, I came out with it because I thought it might help somebody else to know that somebody had had it and overcome it.”

Gregg and his family agreed to come forward with his illness, and in many ways, it’s the same battle Gregg faced when he was diagnosed with melanoma in 1976 and colon cancer in 2001.

Since Gregg’s life changed in October 2011, he’s continued his fight. He always worked out, but now spends four days a week doing specialized routines to help slow the effects of the disease.

Every three months, Gregg meets with his doctor, Parkinson’s expert Rajeev Kumar. During his most recent visit, Gregg received good news in his goals with his health running par for the course, no better and no worse.

Meanwhile, he keeps living his life in Colorado Springs, Colo., not allowing a disease without cure to serve as his death sentence. He’s a member of the local trout fishing club. He enjoys traveling and working with Parkinson’s organizations throughout the country when he’s able.

Two months ago, Gregg traveled to Dallas for the Doak Walker Award Banquet where he reminisced with former teammate Jim Taylor and Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown.

In an interview with Press-Gazette Media last month, Taylor was optimistic about the forecast for his friend and credited him for the steps he’s taken in fighting the disease.

“He’s working through that,” said Taylor, who played nine seasons in Green Bay with Gregg. “He’s doing what he needs to do. Hopefully, he’ll be recovering and having a healthy lifestyle in the future.”

There is a stark reality to Gregg’s battle. Kumar told The Associated Press upon Gregg’s diagnosis that concussions and the physical toll of Gregg’s playing days very well could have caused his affliction.

Still, Gregg has no regrets. A six-time NFL champion as a player, he’s always been built for challenges such as the one he inherited in 1987 when he assumed control of his alma mater, SMU, after the football program received the infamous “death penalty.”

He still follows the Mustangs, impressed by the program’s resurrection under June Jones. Many of the players he recruited to SMU from 1988 to 1990 call him on a monthly basis, along with various players he coached in Cleveland, Cincinnati, Green Bay and even the Canadian Football League.

“Attitude — you just can’t give into it,” Gregg said. “Don’t feel sorry for yourself. Don’t ask why. There’s no answer to that. Do everything you can possibly do to try to overcome the disease whether it’s cancer or whether it’s Parkinson’s.”

Gregg will turn 80 in October, which make moments like Saturday — the chance to be honored where his football career began — even more special.

Despite his disease, Gregg remains active, enjoying walks on the trails near his home. He also hasn’t lost his competitiveness.

He’s unrelenting in many capacities except one. Pausing a moment to laugh, Gregg admits his son has surpassed him during their occasional trout fishing excursions, but nothing else.

“I’ve had a lot of encouragement and that really helps me keep my chin up and realize I can do something about it and I’m going to continue doing that,” Gregg said.

“The physical part of it is the part I can handle well. I’m not what I used to be, but I can handle what I am.”