Rewind a bit:
My friend Jay was my Ironman cycling training partner, even though he doesn't do triathlons! Spending a couple hundred hours together means you get to know one another. Through Jay I met and got to know his wife Dawn. She has Parkinson's Disease and is quite young for how severe her symptoms have been.
I'm sure you've heard of Parkinson's, but here's a basic description from http://www.parkinsoninfo.org/
Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a progressive, neurodegenerative disease that belongs to the group of conditions called motor system disorders. PD cannot yet be cured and sufferers get worse over time as the normal bodily functions, including breathing, balance, movement, and heart function worsen.It affects men more than women, and generally has an onset later in life. Dawn was diagnosed when she was 28. Her symptoms fluctuate and she does have good and bad days. Unfortunately, her case is complicated and she has not responded normally to the standard Parkinson's protocols. She is a bit of an enigma to her doctors (on her 12th neurologist). This leaves confusion and frustration for Dawn about what her body is willing to do on any given day. Some days she can walk fine and three weeks ago she had walked 2 miles on her own. When I met her she had yet to be able to walk a mile.
Parkinson’s disease most often occurs after the age of 50 and is one of the most common nervous system disorders of the elderly. The disease is caused by the slow deterioration of the nerve cells in the brain, which create dopamine. Dopamine is a natural substance found in the brain that helps control muscle movement throughout the body.
Dawn has been following my blog for years and has told me several times how she admires me for what I can do despite my own EDS limitations. Then when I finished Ironman, I told her "you can do your own 'Ironman' you know?" (Ironman definition here: pushing your body and mind to places you want it to go, despite the obstacle or pain in your way).
She called me crazy, I told her that if I can push my bendy body to 140.6 miles, she can handle 3.1. She agreed, then had a laser focus on training for a 5K. As with EDS, the more you keep your body active, the better you feel. Dawn was experiencing the same! She still had symptoms, good days, bad days but it had an overall positive impact.
She asked me "is everyone doing this for Abby?". I skirted the question.
I then decided to go all crazy. I had a 'secret' REAL 5K in the works. I invited friends who have proved anything is possible. Friends who understand and support other friends unconditionally, even friends they never met before!! One friend Sue, made a tutu for Dawn, brought a finish line banner, and invited HER friends, then BROKE HER FOOT the week before. So we improvised and brought a wheelchair. (not that she stayed in it the whole time)! Sometimes you improvise to make your goals. The journey may not turn out the way you planned, but you CAN get there.
Weeks leading up to the event she would message me with statements like this; "I don't want to let anyone down... do you know how long this is going to take me?.. I don't think you know how slow I am"- I assured her that the only way to let anyone down was to NOT TRY! And that we didn't care how long it took.
She kept training, she had a goal. She had an inspiration too! (everyone needs an inspiration). She admires Abby, my friend's 5 year old that continues to fight brain cancer. So Dawn was "doing this 5K for Abby" It is what kept her going! (Abby is my own inspiration for the PMC).
Then came race day!
It was a beautiful fall day in New England. 15 people from 3 states met up on a bike path to walk a 5K with Dawn, regardless of how long it would take. She arrived and saw the mass of people dressed in tutus and dawned with race numbers! Immediately she was apologizing "I'm sorry, do they all know how long this is going to take?" Yup they do!! (and I can understand this sentiment, because that's how I feel with anyone who decides to 'run' with me).
I gave an intro and she was told 'oh this is FOR DAWN!' -- but Dawn still had her Beezy Bee (Abby) t shirt on and I gave her a photo of Abby for her back. Her inspiration was with her! (Ok I won't lie, anything athletic I do is 'for Abby' too). I handed out bracelets from my #GotChocolateMilk friend Chrisann that said "She believed she could, so she did." It was perfect!
We started off and immediately she noticed that she was going to have an uncooperative body day. What took her 15 min to do a week ago, now took an hour. She continued to 'feel bad' and apologize and you could see frustration on her face. No one was leaving, we were here for her. Unconditional support of athletes is something that is very special about our community! (Yes Dawn you are an athlete now),
Jay is an amazingly supportive husband. He knows how to take care of her. "Dawn do you need a kick start?" - "yup", so just about every step she took yesterday was initiated by Jay 'kicking' her foot forward. With Parkinson's her balance and gait are affected. Some days are better than others.
She was in pain, her wrist hurt from holding onto Jay for so long. Her feet were 'on fire.' Along the way, Dawn changed her shoes 4 times, and once changed socks as she was trying to make her feet comfortable. (Sounding more and more like an Ironman isn't it?). I would ask "would you like to turn around? or would you like to sit in the wheelchair?" Emphatic NO was the answer each time.
I saw the look of defeat on her face every time she'd ask for a mileage check. "Ugh, that's it?" (hmmmm again, sound like Ironman?). We would see looks of pain, of frustration "oh I'm holding everyone up, I'm sure they have something else to do today.".. No Dawn, we don't we are HERE FOR YOU! Then came the halfway point. We lined up and cheered. GIANT SMILE across her face. WOOOHOO I GET TO TURN AROUND :).
She would ask about a distance check more and more, (again sound like Ironman?). A few of us would run ahead "look see that bend, the bridge (which was near the car) is around that corner." She yelled at me once "you said that 5x already with each bend I just see another bend."
She decided she wanted some tunes so put in her iPod, she had a little spring in her step for a bit! Jay continued by her side, walking sideways while kicking her foot forward.
I gave everyone medals, and we held up the finish line. She couldn't see us until she was only 20 or so steps away. Her face was covered in MANY emotions. I heard her say "I can't cry in front of all these people?" .. I said OF COURSE YOU CAN, I bet we all will. I cry at sporting events all the time, especially the ones that are INSANELY motivational.. like this one. So like an Ironman, you're rounding the corner to the finish line FINALLY, what do you do? Fix your hair, make sure you don't have cookie on your face, tuck in the shirt LOL.. Yes Dawn, you really did go through all the steps just like Ironman day.
She saw the finish line, came and went through the tape like a champ. I'm not sure she grasped what just happened, she just wanted out of those shoes and to sit down with a Pina Colada.
We cheered, we teared up.. then her mom walked over to her to give her a MEDAL.
Dawn had no idea I had medals! Mom gave a little speech on how proud she was, it made EVERYONE cry.
Videos of the finish in 3 segments;
The things like Mom's approval, or a random stranger's high five, or 15 random strangers (now friends), family and friends sticking it out for 7 hours, on a day like today are priceless!
Dawn did it, she tackled what the thought was NEVER possible. I hope her mindset is changed. SHE CAN do it. She will now and forever be an inspiration for OTHERS as well!
Sometimes you have to think about your goals and how to achieve them. The path to get there may be unique only to you, but there is a path to whatever you want to accomplish!
Yes Dawn believed she could, so she did!
Feel free to leave comments on the blog for Dawn, I will make sure she sees them!
***I can't thank everyone enough for supporting Dawn, it was an amazing selfless day for all that attended. Yes it was a long day, but everyone went in knowing we were getting her to that finish line. I love you all for being there! You are all amazing, inspirational and my hero today!
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