Molly Cupka from Up ENDing Parkinson’s

An interview with Molly Cupka from Up ENDing Parkinson’s on April 12, 2024.


I have been an athlete for most of my life and always knew that I wanted to be involved with sports in some capacity as an occupation. I have been working at Sportrock Climbing Centers since 2008, where I am currently the Director. I live in the country with my husband and 3 wonderful kids (the 4th is out of the house and has a baby of her own) and commute over an hour to work daily because I love what I do!


Can you tell me more about your organization?

My Parkinson’s climbing group started at Sportrock Climbing Centers in 2012 with 1 climber who noticed a difference and it grew from there. In May of 2022, we officially became the non-profit, Up ENDing Parkinson’s, with the goal of using climbing as a therapy for those living with Parkinson’s Disease at an affordable price all over the country. Research on the subject matter was also a goal of mine since I would love to see insurance companies covering activities like this.


What is your passion and how did you get involved in Parkinson’s awareness and hope for a cure?

I am passionate about rock climbing and the benefits this amazing sport provides to so many. I am also passionate about neuroscience and finding the intersection between rock climbing and neuroscience has been a huge blessing. In the process, I have fallen in love with helping those living with Parkinson’s Disease and the whole community.


What type of goals do individuals with Parkinson’s have when working with you?

The Up ENDing Parkinson’s climbers all have the similar goal of staying on top of their symptoms and mitigating them as much as possible through overall healthy lifestyles. The other common goal is to learn something new and to be successful at it. I hear over and over again, “I can’t believe I am doing this”, which is extremely empowering.


What type of training and how long are the programs?

Our programs are 1-2 hours long and are offered 1-5 times/week, depending on the location. Many of our participants will often join their local climbing gym and climb with the available Up ENDing Parkinson’s group once or twice/week and climb on their own using the autobelays or with each other up to 5 times/week.


What effect can it have on an individual with Parkinson’s?

Currently we are running a comprehensive study on the physical and psychological effects of rock climbing on those living with Parkinson’s disease and that is expected to wrap up in mid-2024. While this will be great for others to see, I don’t need a study to express the value and improvements in physical and mental wellbeing that I have seen from those who are involved in our program. Something as simple as a rock-climbing group can completely change the trajectory of an individual’s life and I have seen it happen many times.


What would you like to see as a future goal for your programs?

We would love to be funded well enough to ensure we can offer free or affordable programs at multiple gyms in every state. We also want to do more outdoor programming and additional studies on this.


What events do you participate in?

Up ENDing Parkinson’s participates in seminars and events around the country to promote awareness. We are also present at larger climbing events, like the Climbing Wall Association Summit, to spread awareness about Parkinson’s Disease and what climbing can do for this community of people. In the future, we will be participating in events to showcase the results of our study.


How does this also assist the caregivers?

Caregivers get to benefit 2-fold from our programming. First, the individuals who participate in our program typically report feeling happier and more independent. Second, we invite caregivers to participate so they can do an activity together!


How can someone get in touch?  What is your website?




How can others also become advocates for awareness?

Others can become advocates for awareness through word of mouth and education. Joining as a volunteer for our program or other programs is a fantastic way to educate yourself and in turn, spread your knowledge to others. Podcasts, social media, articles, and videos are also great ways to spread awareness.


In your opinion what is the key to effective advocacy? 

Effective advocacy can look like many things, but it all starts with sharing the appropriate information with the audience you are sharing it with. Talking to anyone who will listen will eventually pay off.


How can we better fundraise to support a cure for Parkinson’s?

I think it all starts with awareness. We live in a society, whether its acknowledged or not, that does not support its older population as I feel it should be supported. Diseases like Parkinson’s Disease are often brushed off as “just getting older” and that is not an answer to anyone’s challenges. Many corporations and organizations have money for funding and understanding the importance of helping those living with Parkinson’s Disease needs to happen for PD to move up on the list as possible donation recipients.


What other activities do you undertake to help improve and support your daily living Eg exercise and alternative remedies?

While rock climbing is one activity, we always promote all exercise as well as healthy eating. Our group also serves as a support group that provides social interactions in a very positive way.


Why should people who don’t have Parkinson’s care about this? 

People living with Parkinson’s Disease should care about this because it is giving hope in an otherwise progressive circumstance. People really do improve, and this is huge with Parkinson’s Disease. It makes every day living more enjoyable.


Have you had any family members or relatives affected by Parkinson’s disease?

While I consider many of the climber with Parkinson’s Disease family, I do not have any family members or relatives affected by PD.


If you had one song that would tell us more about you or represent your life which song would it be?

Brave by Sara Bareilles


If you had one final statement or quote you could leave for the Parkinson’s community, what would it be?

Keep getting back up even after you feel knocked down. Take “give up” out of your vocabulary and show up even when it’s difficult.