Seven Marathons in Seven Days with Parkinson’s?

Bret Parker has had Parkinson’s for 11 years, since he was 38 years old. Recently, he made an amazing goal for himself of running 7 marathons on 7 continents in 7 days, and nothing was going to stop him from achieving it. That was his attitude, anyway, but was it enough to help him achieve his extremely ambitious goal?

Since Bret was diagnosed with Parkinson’s, he has been on the hunt for personal challenges, which have included the New York City Marathon, a triathlon along the Long Island Sound, and even a jump out of an airplane. Then, there was this- the World Marathon Challenge. Let’s see how he fared:

Bret’s first marathon was in Antarctica, but during a warmer season (temperatures were around 20 degrees Fahrenheit). Similar to the 50 or so others on the adventure with him, he wore ski goggles and trail shoes and lots of layers of clothing. Unlike them, however, he carried a tiny plastic bag of pills that he was regularly popping to help ward off the stiffness, cramping and tremors of his Parkinson’s. Bret crossed the finish line in just under 6 hours, 23 minutes, with a few Parkinson’s-related symptoms—uncontrollable head-to-toe shivering and aches and pains — along the way. At the end, his hands had curled up, his calves were cramping and he struggled to speak. However, with a positive “1 down, and 6 to go” attitude, he was ready to do it again in Cape Town, South Africa eight hours later. He had an easier run in Cape Town, and crossed the finish line there at a similar pace.

Bret’s third marathon was in Perth, Australia. Prior to the race, the top of his right foot and his left shin hurt badly. He also had developed blisters, including a huge one on the ball of his left foot. He sent out a Facebook post a half-hour before the start that said, “It’s possible I won’t make it through this one.” With lots of encouragement from family and friends and his own personal drive for success, he crossed the finish line with eight minutes to spare.

Bret mostly walked at a slower pace during the next three marathons — in Dubai, Lisbon and Cartagena, Colombia. When he arrived in Miami for his 7th and final marathon of the challenge, he could barely walk off the plane. With encouragement from friends, family, and strangers who heard about him through the Michael J. Fox Foundation, Bret felt euphoric that the end was in sight and embarked on the race. A chorus of loud cheers erupted as Bret crossed the finish line. He flashed seven fingers as he broke through the tape. He did it!

A Crazy Challenge

Running seven marathons in seven days can be damaging to a perfectly healthy adult. But having Parkinson’s doesn’t necessarily make it more so, said Melissa J. Nirenberg, a neurologist and researcher who treated Bret for the first 10 years after his diagnosis.

Nirenberg had the same reaction as many of Bret’s friends when he told her of his plans. She remembers saying, “What in the world are you thinking?” She did note, however, that exercise is known to slow the progression of the disease’s symptoms.

Bret’s Amazing Attitude

The way Bret challenges himself and his uplifting attitude and accomplishments have brought attention and awareness to himself and to Parkinson’s disease. Bret has become an advocate for the disease on social media, where he has built a support network that spans continents and includes people he’s never met. His feats have attracted donations totaling in excess of $215,000 for the Michael J. Fox Foundation.

According to Bret, “Parkinson’s has given me the freedom, the liberty to take on these things, even though they seem ridiculous,” Bret said in an interview. “It helps me get over a fear of water, it helps me raise money, it gives me a goal. It’s a lot better story when I’m trying to tell people to donate to be able to say I’m doing my part. “Also,” he added, “I don’t want it to be in charge of me.”

Bret is a husband, a father, a graduate of University of Pennsylvania (from where I and another Farr Law Firm attorney, Sara Entis, also graduated), and he is also the executive director of the New York City Bar Association. See the video of his story and marathon experience here.

Similar to Bret, the Washington Post published another story about a man with Parkinson’s who took up boxing to keep his body from freezing up. Read about him here.

Mental and Physical Toughness for Those with Parkinson’s

Many people with Parkinson’s and other chronic diseases without a cure find lots of ways to stay positive – from small, everyday things like keeping a diary of positive moments, to longer-term relaxation activities, such as taking up yoga or meditation classes. Many also do what they can to stay mentally and physically tough, to stave off the effects of the disease for as long as possible.

Here are some ways to stay mentally and physically strong if you have Parkinson’s:

1. Get the emotions out. Go ahead and get mad, throw a fit, cry for a while, then get over it and get on with your life.
2. Laugh a lot. Laughter stimulates all parts of the brain, including the parts of the brain that produce dopamine. Laughter enables dopamine to be released into the system and this is helpful for alleviating some of the physical and emotional symptoms of Parkinson’s. Laughter releases happy hormones, including dopamine, endorphins, and serotonin. The biochemical changes that occur during laughter create a more positive state of mind and a more optimistic outlook.
3. Exercise or at least get up off the couch and move. Maybe you found the story about Bret Parker motivational, or at least were inspired by his can-do attitude. Remember, you don’t have to run seven marathons, or even one! Take a walk, stretch. . . do what you can! Just keep moving. If you don’t use it, you might lose it!

Anyone can be diagnosed with Parkinson’s or any other debilitating disease. Remember, even though you may have certain obstacles and setbacks, life can be pretty amazing if you choose to adapt to it. Hopefully, Bret and others will inspire you to stay positive, have a can-do attitude, and do what you can to make your life the best it can be!

Do you or a Loved One Suffer from Parkinson’s or Another Debilitating Disease?

If you or a loved one is nearing the need for long-term care or already receiving long-term care or if you have not done Long-Term Care Planning, Estate Planning or Incapacity Planning (or had your Planning documents reviewed in the past several years), please call at one of the numbers below to make an appointment for an initial consultation, or sign up for one of our upcoming seminars:

Fairfax Elder Law: 703-691-1888
Fredericksburg Elder Law: 540-479-1435
Rockville Elder Law: 301-519-8041
DC Elder Law: 202-587-2797

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About Evan H Farr, CELA, CAP

Evan H. Farr is a 4-time Best-Selling author in the field of Elder Law and Estate Planning. In addition to being one of approximately 500 Certified Elder Law Attorneys in the Country, Evan is one of approximately 100 members of the Council of Advanced Practitioners of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and is a Charter Member of the Academy of Special Needs Planners.