An interview with Gary Shaughnessy, Chairman of Parkinson’s UK on September 13, 2023 by George Ackerman, Ph.D, J.D.
Gary Shaughnessy is Chairman of Parkinson’s UK, England Athletics, and the Z Zurich Foundation.
Over the last 35 years, he has held senior roles in financial services, culminating in being the CEO of EMEA for Zurich Insurance and a member of the company’s Group Executive until 2019.
He was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2015. When he stepped back from full time commercial life, Gary took on the role of Chair at Parkinson’s UK, having already been a trustee of the charity. He has also continued to be Chair of the Z Zurich Foundation, a charitable trust focusing on climate resilience, mental well-being, and social equity programs across the globe.
In September 2021, Gary was appointed as Chairman of England Athletics. This reflects a lifelong engagement in community sport as well as a strong belief in the power of sport to support social mobility and inclusion and physical and mental well-being. Gary also combines sport with community engagement to raise funds and awareness for Parkinson’s UK and other Charities.
Since diagnosis Gary has run more than 40 marathons and completed Arch to Arc (one of the world’s toughest triathlons. Together with his friend, Andy Tucker, he became a double Guinness World Record Holder in 2021, running the longest distances 3 legged for 12pm and 24 hours respectively (71.2km and 117.1km).
This year’s sporting challenges have already included a 4.1km open water swim, 3 marathons and 2 epic cycles, with more to follow!
In June 2023, Gary was awarded a CBE in the King’s birthday honors list.
Please tell me a little about your background and what got you involved with awareness.
I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2015. At the time, I felt that the main message of being told that you had a neurodegenerative condition that meant that you would just decline in all ways didn’t seem right to me. I recognized that the condition was neurodegenerative but felt that there must be something I could do to slow the condition or to not decline in all ways. That led me to focus on sport and exercise.
Can you tell me more about your advocacy? I started by doing events to keep fit and raise money for research. I was helped by being heavily involved in the Zurich community trust, so people gave me great advice and the trust matched my fundraising. I soon found my voice and then after being recommended to visit the European Parkinson’s Centre in Italy, I found that exercise could make a real difference, so this meant I could do spirt to slow my condition down, raise funds and make others aware of the benefits of exercise
What is your passion and how did you get involved in Parkinson’s awareness and hope for a cure?
I was already keen on sport but since my diagnosis it’s gone to another level. Not long after my diagnosis, my wife, Janet, and I ran the Barcelona marathon along with members of our local running club. I’ve now done 42 marathons, cycling challenges, the Arch to Arc triathlon, an open water swim, a kayak marathon, wing walking and become a double Guinness world record holder – all with brilliant help from family, friends, and colleagues.
What effect can your advocacy have on an individual with Parkinson’s awareness?
For me this is summed up in my slogan: Live Life, Love Life, Stop Parkinsons “. My message is all about enjoying life to the best we can and refusing to have our potential capped. Parkinson’s is a horrible condition, but I don’t want to make it easy for it to take my life over. I’ve also met so many brilliant people in the Parkinson’s community – people with Parkinson’s, loved ones, specialists, trainers, medical and research experts. My friends, family and colleagues have been superb, and I want to reinforce how much I have learned and benefitted from meeting wonderful people along the way. I hate the condition but don’t need to hate myself for having it.
What would you like to see as a future goal for your advocacy?
Awareness that we can do something and the benefits of a positive mindset.
What events do you participate in?
Marathons, triathlons, cycling, a bit of running, swimming, and cycling.
How can someone get in touch? What is your website?
If you had one final statement or quote you could leave for the Parkinson community, what would it be?
Live Life, Love Live, Stop Parkinsons