An interview with Parkinson’s Champions Run 4 PD from the Parkinson’s Foundation on August 7, 2023 by George Ackerman, Ph.D, J.D.
Parkinson’s Champions are racing toward a cure! Our Parkinson’s Champions athletes raise funds and awareness for the Parkinson’s Foundation while competing in some of the world’s most popular endurance events. Every step we take brings us closer to a future without Parkinson’s disease, because Parkinson’s isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon. While our Parkinson’s Champions Endurance program has been around for around a decade, it has grown significantly over the last couple of years. We have gone from around 4 events, to over 14, with hundreds of runners and athletes taking part from all around the world. Check out all our current teams at ParkinsonsChampions.org
Please tell me a little about your background.
Many popular race events (marathons, triathlons, etc.) around the world offer official “Charity Partner Programs.” We as the Parkinson’s Foundation sign a contract with the race organizations and pay a discounted rate for entries to these races which we can offer to community members in exchange for fundraising on our behalf. Around 40% of our runners are caregivers for someone with PD, another 40% are other friends or family of people with PD, around 10% are medical professionals, and the last 10% are people with Parkinson’s themselves.
Know local folks who might want to come cheer on our runners on race day? Send them to Parkinson.org/ChampionsCheer to join our official volunteer cheer team!
Can you tell me more about your advocacy?
We are so proud of all our Parkinson’s Champions athletes. Without their passion, determination, and support, it would not be possible for us to provide all the essential resources we are able to share with our Parkinson’s community. Check out our 2022 Yearbook for all sorts of inspiring successes, stories, updates, and videos!
What is your passion and how did you get involved in Parkinson’s awareness and hope for a cure?
Exercise is an important part of healthy living for everyone. For those with Parkinson’s disease (PD), exercise is more than healthy — it is a vital component to maintaining balance, mobility, and activities of daily living. Research shows that exercise and physical activity can not only maintain and improve mobility, flexibility and balance but also ease non-motor PD symptoms such as depression or constipation. In addition to our official race teams, we also offer 2 other flexible programs that allow community members to take part in fitness however they see fit:
RUN YOUR OWN RACE:
Many individual’s sign-up for smaller race events around the country (and the world). While these athletes pay their own entry fees to participate in the events, many still choose to fundraise for the Parkinson’s Foundation. These athletes are eligible to receive some of the benefits that our “Official Race Team” participants receive, and Parkinson’s Champions Endurance program staff are available to provide support. Signup at Run4PD.org (scroll down to the “Run Your Own Race” tab)
CHAMPIONS @ HOME:
Our Champions @ Home program is for individuals who want to set a personal fitness challenge (but not take part in an official event). Whether they are running 30 miles this month, doing a pushup challenge, setting a new swimming goal, or whatever helps them raise your heartrate, they’ll know that you are helping provide essential services for the 90,000 people diagnosed with Parkinson’s each year! This is an entirely self-directed program. Learn more at ChampionsAtHome.org
What type of goals do individuals with Parkinson’s awareness have when working Parkinson’s Champions?
Each of our Parkinson’s Champions athletes come with their own set of goals for running a race with us. For our runners with Parkinson’s disease, it is often about staying in shape, and showing the world that just because you have PD, doesn’t mean you can’t accomplish great things. For others it is about honoring someone they love who has or had Parkinson’s, challenging themselves to do something amazing to show their love and appreciation. For some runners it is all about bringing in more support for our Parkinson’s community at large so that we may someday find a cure. Whatever their reasons are, we are so incredibly proud of all our champions!
What effect Parkinson’s Champions advocacy have on an individual with Parkinson’s awareness?
One of the things we know our Parkinson’s Champions provide to our community is inspiration. When we post their stories on social media, it is always our runner’s stories that folks tell us most inspired them and helped them feel like there is a world of people out there who have gone through similar challenges and found a way to dream big. We also know that many people with Parkinson’s first learn about all of the resources the Parkinson’s Foundation provides when they see our team members out there running in their bright blue Parkinson’s Champions jerseys.
What would you like to see as a future goal for your Parkinson’s Champions?
One of our biggest goals is developing a program that would allow anyone with Parkinson’s disease to run in any of our races without needing to fundraise. We continue to actively work to find financial and corporate support that would allow us to do this and hope to begin rolling out a program like this soon.
To continue to inspire hope which keeps individuals going. See Janet’s story at https://www.parkinson.org/living-with-parkinsons/stories/janet-gilliam
What events do you participate in?
You can always find our current race list and application at Run4PD.org
While we are always working to add more races to our menu, our current list includes:
- Disneyland Half Marathon Weekend
- Life Time Miami Marathon Weekend
- Los Angeles Marathon Weekend
- United Airlines NYC Half Marathon
- Big Sur International Marathon Weekend
- Eugene Marathon Weekend
- Falmouth Road Race
- HOKA Chicago Half Marathon & 5k
- Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon Weekend
- Bank of America Chicago Marathon
- Marine Corps Marathon & 10k
- TCS New York City Marathon
- Philadelphia Marathon Weekend
How does someone get in touch with you? Is there a website?
Run for Parkinson’s at https://www.parkinson.org/how-to-help/fundraise/run
Champions Home at ChampionsAtHome.org
If you had one final statement or quote you could leave for the Parkinson’s community, what would it be?
As Parkinson’s Champions, we always like to say we run “Because Parkinson’s isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon…”