Healthy Living

7 Marathons, 7 Days, 7 Continents: A Man's Inspiring Way to Raise Money for Parkinson's Disease

7 Marathons, 7 Days, 7 Continents: A Man's Inspiring Way to Raise Money for Parkinson's Disease

Bret Parker set out to do what few can do when they are healthy: 7 marathons in 7 days and on 7 continents. Unlike the other runners, Bret was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, a long-term degenerative disorder of the central nervous system. Parkinson's affects the motor system with symptoms of shaking, rigidity, difficulty walking, and slowness of movement.

As the disease progresses, neurons continue to be lost, and medications become less effective. Medications, like Levodopa, can also produce involuntary writhing movements if taken for a long period of time. In 2015 it was estimated that 6.2 million people had Parkinson’s and over 117,400 deaths occurred directly from the disease.

Bret Parker was only 38 years old when diagnosed with Early Onset Parkinson's disease. When Bret was first diagnosed, his symptoms were almost undetectable. At first, he didn't think anyone could do anything for his condition, and he told very few people about his disorder.  Early Onset Parkinson’s typically progresses slowly, and Bret felt like he had years before anyone would notice.

In an interview with Forbes, Bret commented, “So even though I shouldn’t be ashamed or embarrassed about something I didn’t choose, I’ve kept this to myself for years.  Yet, my secret slowly ate away at me.  As my Parkinson’s progressed, one small noticeable symptom after the next, what began as a secret felt like it was becoming a lie.” 

This changed in January, 2018. Bret's best friend convinced him to run a 5 mile leg to help raise money for the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research. How could he refuse? Joining in this race, the World Marathon Challenge, he brought Parkinson's disease to the forefront. However, little did he know that he was about to embark on an important journey to raise money for Parkinson's disease.

Bret’s story starts in Antarctica

On January 30th, Bret was in Antarctica ready to take on his first marathon. At first, it started great. Bret noted that the weather wasn't cold, 20°, even though it was windy. He wore ski goggles, trail shoes, and many layers to prepare. But, he also carried with him a plastic bag of pills to avoid stiffness, tremors, and cramping.  According to Bret, the first 15 miles of ice and snow was impressive, and he had no symptoms. But then, the weather got colder and windier.

The Antarctica lap is six laps around a four-mile loop at the Russian research station Novolazarevskaya, and the vistas are like the ocean, only frozen. Bret walked quite a bit over the final 10 miles, but with only a quarter of a mile to go, he began to run again. He had felt a rare symptom coming on – head to toe shivering.  Bret needed to get inside and quickly. He crossed the finish line in under 6 hours and 23 minutes, but his hands were curled up, his calves were cramping, and he struggled to speak.

Event organizers gave him a ride on a snowmobile back to the shelter where he warmed up, settled, down and headed for a plane. Eight hours later, Bret was on the southern tip of Africa ready to run again.

Photo source: Bret Parker/Washington Post