Athletics Training and Competitive Sport with Parkinson’s Disease — Out-Thinking Parkinson’s

There were still plenty of hard days—times when I couldn’t help but feel frustrated that I had to develop this new training outlook and times when I just missed the days of not having to think about any limitations. My left side doesn’t respond as quickly leaving me feeling uncoordinated. But then, after a bad day, the next day I’d try to get back at it and do the training I could do. I found that cross-training with a stationary bike really helped me feel better about what I could do. And I also started making an effort to work out with friends as that helped motivate me on days I might have been tempted to give up. That’s when I started reading and thinking about the National Paralympic team and the rowers they had on their team. That got me really interested.

After some internal debate, I finally reached out to—the Paralympic High Performance Director, Ellen Mizner, who is located in Boston. I introduced myself via email, told her about my condition, and asked her about how one gets designated or classified as a para-rower. Her response was warm and receptive. And with her help, within a few months, I completed the qualifications to be classified as a para-rower. I was ecstatic, but also quite nervous. Now I had the chance to compete again but I didn’t know how it would go considering my new circumstances. But the next step was attending the training camp in Boston for the Paralympic National Team, so off I went.

In Boston, I was impressed and, honestly, a little intimidated at the level of ability with the other para-rowers. The training camp lasted 12 weeks and there were several other strong male rowers vying for the same five spots. I felt pretty unsure about my chances to qualify, honestly. But then in July, my partner and I, Andy Wigren, won first place at the US National Team Trials in our event, the PR3 Men’s Pair event. This earned us the right to represent the US at the 2019 World Rowing Championships. It was amazing winning the trial. I’ve never been on a national team before and I was beyond ecstatic.

The summer had so many highlights. In Linz, Austria at the World Rowing Championships, Andy and I competed against some incredibly strong rowers but still managed to finish in 6th place in our event. And then in June, a really cool thing happened. While competing at the World Rowing Cup II in Poznan, Poland in the PR3 Mixed Four event with my teammates, we won a World Cup gold medal. I was floored. That was such an awesome day.

Since returning home from my travels, I’ve continued to connect with more athletes in the Parkinson’s community. I’m still coaching as well which I love. It brings me so much joy to share my passion for the sport with others. Some days are harder than others, but it really helps to have these goals to look forward to. Right now I’m training hard to hopefully earn a spot on the US Paralympic Team that will compete in Tokyo next summer. Ultimately, I’m excited for what’s ahead. And, looking back at all the ups and downs of this last year, I’m really proud of all that I’ve accomplished.

This last year has taught me a lot. I know I have a much better appreciation for each day of my life now, and, specifically, time spent with my loved ones. I don’t take for granted the moments I get to enjoy with my spouse and my dog. They’re so precious to me and now I can’t help but stay aware of how much I value those times. I’m grateful for that awareness.

Getting diagnosed with Parkinson’s will never be easy. My heart goes out to anyone who has to go through that. But I hope my story can maybe make someone feel less alone and inspire them to seek out a community and stay curious about what they still can do. Over this last year, I’ve had the opportunity to meet so many awesome people and athletes, people who have become a part of my family. Everything considered, I’d say things are looking up and I think they can for you too.

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