In May 2014 I was diagnosed with Young Onset Parkinson’s Disease and during the following five years I carried on with life trying things I hadn’t done before. Not necessarily anything really ‘out there’, but for me at the age of 43 some of the things were things I had never tried before. I did the longest, fastest zip wire in Europe, I ‘parapented’ in the French alps, I took up running with my dog (canicross), also cycling with my dog (bikejor) and ran various trails around the country and many marathons.
Fast forward to January of this year and I was starting to slow down…..
I was beginning to find that I was getting tired when exercising, I felt like everything was really hard work, if I went for a five mile run, like I’d always done, I struggled during the run and also with the recovery afterwards. I was looking for an answer to try and get myself back on track, without, as I thought I was doing, succumbing to the dreaded Parkinson’s.
I saw an ‘Inside Out’ documentary on the BBC where a group of four people rowed across the Indian Ocean, one of them had Young Onset Parkinson’s Disease, as part of a research program into the effects of exercise on the disease. At the end of the documentary it was mentioned that the program was being repeated and that if you wanted to take part to get in touch. I didn’t see where or who I was to get in touch with, so I googled and eventually got in touch with Billy through Facebook. Within a couple of hours we’d exchanged phone numbers and had had a lengthy conversation about the program and the row. He left me with a Netflix documentary to watch called ‘Losing Sight of Shore‘, telling me to discuss the whole thing with my family and said he’d get back in touch in a couple of days. So when I found myself with a couple hours to spare I watched the documentary………
I was hooked, it was emotional, amazing, horrific, uplifting, and just inspirational!!! I wanted to do this. Even not knowing the full extent of the whole adventure, I was excited about the possibility of being involved. I spoke to Billy a few days later explaining that I was so excited to find out more and really wanted to be involved. Shortly after I was invited down to Oxford Brooks University to meet the team and the other people with Young Onset Parkinson’s that wanted to be involved.
I was excited….
I didn’t close my eyes the whole night with anticipation and excitement. I arrived ridiculously early, as in 9:30am in the morning , when we weren’t meeting until 12pm…… Yes very early!!! I met Billy and two other men who had put themselves forward…..I was shocked, I thought there’d be loads more people! When I told Lee this (my long suffering partner) he said “Do you realise what you’re embarking on…of course there’s not many people…its a massive thing!!”
After numerous meetings in Oxford, Salisbury, Chichester, and Wiltshire with the three other crew members I was chosen as the final crew member to make a crew of four. I was absolutely beside myself with excitement, this was real now, I was actually going to be part of a four person crew rowing the Atlantic ocean in 2020 from Lanzarote to Antigua, 3200 miles, things like this don’t happen to someone like me…..
Fast forward 6 months and this journey has been absolutely amazing. Hard. Wonderful. Mad, at times. But truly life changing in every way…
In May I joined the local gym and met up with a friend I’d not seen for a few years who happened to be a personal trainer, who had established himself as a very successful coach, transforming peoples lives through exercise and nutrition, Kevin. With his help, I embarked on a whole new regime which included changing my diet and undertaking a whole new way of life. The research has shown that people with Parkinson’s do not take on and use carbohydrates like other people, but burn fat instead, I’m not sure of the technical details but that’s it in layman’s terms.
So we eliminated all carbs even unrefined ones and almost instantly I felt a change in how I felt, performed and recovered from everything including exercise. I was filled with boundless energy and a new zest for life! I didn’t realise how bad I felt until I felt good, it was an amazing feeling. This allowed me to start an intensive training program. At this point, I’d never been in a rowing boat and also I’d never been taught to swim!
I could swim of a fashion, I always said I swam like a girl; a bit of breast stroke with my head out of the water. Yes…I couldn’t/wouldn’t put my head under the water!!! I thought I would die if I did, I wouldn’t even put my head under the water when I had a shower!!! So i joined a rowing club and started swimming lessons and I now can row and swim. I actually love open water swimming, not so keen on swimming in a pool, but I absolutely have embraced open water swimming, I love it.
So, with six weeks to go before departure I have loved the journey this adventure has taken me on, it has completely taken over my life, completely changed my life, it’s changed me physically and mentally, I’ve found out things about myself I never knew. I never knew I was so determined, my family would probably say stubborn, I now won’t say no to anything, I believe I can do anything. Before I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s I never really took myself out of my comfort zone, I stood back and said “I can’t do that”, but after diagnosis I now feel like I can do anything and I want to do everything because I want to show the world that nothing is impossible and everything is possible.
We are now in single figure weeks until the next part of this amazing journey and I’m more excited than ever, at the moment I’m not nervous or worrying about anything to do with the row, I’m just full of excited anticipation and I can’t really believe that we are nearly there.
So, if you take anything away from reading this, then believe that you can put your mind to anything and that if you want something, just go out and get it, you can aspire to be anything or do anything in life. Set yourself a goal in life, even if its just to walk to the end of your street, that maybe something you’ve never done before, do it, and you’ll see how achieving a goal makes you feel. I’m not advocating that everyone rows the Atlantic, but give yourself a goal, achieve it and feel good.