Team Parkinson at the 2014 San Francisco Marathon

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After a somewhat shaky start, Edna and I left Whittier in our new Honda Odyssey Thursday morning, heading for San Francisco.  It felt as if we were on an odyssey of our own, since Edna hadn’t been feeling well, and we’d been in a car accident on Saturday of the previous weekend.  We were rear-ended at a stoplight with such force that it shoved my Odyssey into the car ahead, and that car hit the one ahead, and so on until five cars were damaged all together.  Fortunately, the Honda had sufficient structural strength to survive and remain drivable; so, fully loaded with all the gear that Team Parkinson requires, we set out on our journey.  Fortunately, we were blessed with good weather and relatively light traffic as we drove up the central valley.  California’s current drought was clearly in evidence as the barren hills and dry fields flashed by. Sometimes I get the feeling when Edna is driving that we are stationary and the world is scrolling by--as if we’re in a video arcade.  The highway through the Central valley is boring enough that it seems to repeat itself, just like an arcade game.  

After a brief lunch stop at Harris Ranch, we continued up the 5 freeway to the 580 San Francisco split near Tracy, and on into the city.  It was a thoroughly unremarkable trip, thank goodness, and we arrived in time for a convenient check-in at the Hyatt Embarcadero and a leisurely dinner at the South Beach Café with Carol Walton, CEO of The Parkinson Alliance, our parent organization.

On Friday morning, we gathered for breakfast and then headed over to the Marathon Expo site at Fort Mason.  This is the third new site in the last six years, and it wasn’t that easy to find for those of us who only visit the City once or twice a year.  Eventually, with the help of local resident Thomas Beck, we found the proper building and had the booth set up in plenty of time for the expo.  Thomas was not able to run with us this year, but he is a true friend to Team Parkinson.  After setting up everything, Edna was not feeling well again and Thomas gave her a lift back to the hotel for some rest. Carol and I were soon joined in the booth by Kathryn Watson, representing our premier sponsor, Abbvie, as well as May May Ali and Jennifer Bugnatto. It was a close fit to get three tables and five people all in a single booth, so at least one of us was usually hanging out in the flow of traffic in front of our space.  That strategy certainly helped us gain signatures to the Wall of Hope (Abbvie has agreed to donate $15 toward Parkinson’s research for each signature on the Wall and people were very generous with their time) and we filled three full panels over the course of the expo.

We wrapped up the Expo on Saturday afternoon and returned to the South Beach Café for our annual Carbo-Load Dinner.  This is, for me at least, the true high-point of the weekend.  The dinner offers us a chance to interact with all the members of the Team, and some of their supporters. Our thanks go to Katherine Mohr for all her work to coordinate dinner arrangements. It was a casual affair this year, dinner served buffet -style, and interspersed with brief presentations from me, Carol Walton, and Dr. Carrolee Barlow, new CEO of The Parkinson’s Institute. Carol welcomed everyone to the dinner and thanked our sponsors, as well as our host, Fernando, and his staff. Fernando was certainly generous with his time and the resources of the South Beach Cafe, and Carol acknowledged his contribution by presenting him with a Team Parkinson jacket.  He is now an official part of our team.

Our dinner was dedicated to the memory of Roar Eikenes, of Larvik, Norway. Roar first joined Team Parkinson in San Francisco in 2006, and subsequently took our banner around the world with marathons in Moscow, London, New York, Rio de Janeiro, and the Great Wall of China. In March of 2007, he joined us in Los Angeles to complete his 50th marathon.  He finished it--in spite of Parkinson’s and an abscessed tooth.  Roar passed last year from multiple myeloma after a four year battle.  Fortunately, Roar’s nephew Anders Eikenes and his family were able to join us for the dinner and presentation. They were at the end of a year-long medical study at Stanford University.  Anders was so inspired by the honor to his uncle that he decided to join in the 1/2 marathon on Sunday.

After dinner, Dr. Carrolee Barlow spoke of her new responsibilities at the Parkinson’s Institute and her goals for the treatment of Parkinson’s disease.  Her vision for the future is very broad and yet detailed with specific goals and important targets along the way.  I was impressed with the depth of her background and look forward to working with the Institute in the future.  Her presentation gave hope to many of us for genuine progress toward a cure in the not-so-distant future.  I think we all left the dinner that night feeling inspired and intent on making a difference in any way we can. One way we are certainly making a difference is in funding PD research.  Our team efforts this weekend have presently raised over $46,500 and we hope to exceed $50K before closing the books on this event.

Sunday morning was race day.  The marathoners and those running the first half were out on the Embarcadero early under the cover of darkness and watched the sun rise briefly before disappearing behind a cooling layer of low clouds. The temperature was ideal for running and the running crowd was eager for the task at hand.  Mark Saxonberg and I were in the final wave of starters and were unable to connect with any of the others in our team.  My view of the race was therefore limited to the ‘tailend-charlies’ and the few we passed along the way. We did manage to spot Gregg Riehl running ahead of us as we passed each other on the Golden Gate Bridge.  I must admit that with such good conditions and my wonderful teammate Mark at my side, I was able to run a better ½ marathon than I expected.  I finished in 2:45:08 for 8th place of the 14 men in the 70-99 age group.  Boy, you know you’re getting old when your age group spans 30 years.

Mark Saxonberg (4:58:10), Gregg Riehl (5:35:22) and several others wearing the Team Parkinson colors finished under clear skies and warmer temperatures.  Full marathon finishers included Kirin Basra (?), Joel Beatty (4:44:12), Matia Wagabaza (4:53:16), and Elizabeth Saunders (5:10:04).

First and second-half finishers included Steven Austrheim-Smith (2:48:00), Christine Balingit (2:44:07), Monica Mackinnon (2:09:17), Sarah Clampett (2:09:02), Anders Eikenes (?), Joy Francisco (2:03:30), Christy Maguire (1:53.59), Frank Markowitz (1:58:55), Christi Morales-Kumasawa (2:53:30), Cameron Passmore (2:41:19), Grace Volonoski (12 yrs. old!...2:38:03), Brigid Warmerdam (2:41:19), and Tara Warmerdam (2:25:44). Carol Walton and May May Ali, after a valiant effort in the first half, turned around on the bridge and took the long way home. Their extended trek turned into an ultra-endurance test, salvaged only by the discovery of a Starbucks.  Knowing them as well as I do, I suspect they were probably just having too much fun along the way.

It is easy to be very proud of our accomplishments in the marathon, but I can’t forget that many of our team work very hard to complete the 5K.  It’s shorter, certainly, but Parkinson’s can increase the level of difficulty to a major challenge.  Since I never get to see the 5K unless I’m in it, I’ll let Edna tell you about our team success.

Edna says: Sunday morning July 27th dawned cool and cloudy for the 5K. Our team gathered together for the start and some photos. Unfortunately, due to some electrical problem with the timers, the start was delayed by almost 45 minutes. But it gave us all a chance to talk some more and take more photos! Finally we were off as the sun started to peek through. The 5K is a flat walk along the Embarcadero. The beautiful bridge, the bay, and the sailboats, all make it such a pleasant experience. There were about 20 of us, some running, most walking and best of all there were 4 in the group with Parkinson’s! Brian Reedy, Elizabeth Dekle, Francesca Demgen and Becky Morales all did a great job representing one of our mission goals, which is to empower people living with PD to improve the quality of their lives through exercise. They certainly embody the spirit of what Team Parkinson is about. And each of the 4 had family and friends also walking with them to show their support. It doesn’t get much better than that!

After the 5K, several of us made our way to the Team Parkinson cheering area to wait for our runners in the marathon and 2nd half marathon. It was great to see our intrepid athletes run by on their way to the finish line and their well-deserved medals.

Congratulations to everyone who participated by running, walking, cheering and fundraising!

 

John Ball

 

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