Two month’s notice…
That day finally showed up last Thursday. The day I knew had been coming for several months now, but hoped never would. George, a client of many years, and a friend for precisely as long, explained that he would be leaving Fallbrook in mid-January, and relocating to a senior living community in Orange County. George is 74, and lives with Parkinson’s disease.
George stepped into my studio for the first time years ago. He was in his 60s, and was scarcely into his retirement from his career as an executive with an energy company. George wanted to begin a fitness regimen to augment his twice per week golf schedule. George also wanted to lose a few pounds around his waist, and improve his overall shape. If functional strength training might help his golf game, peripheral weight loss would be a cherry on top.
George was focused with his workouts, and made progress quickly. His balance improved. His flexibility improved. His endurance improved. His strength improved – to a point where he could leg press several hundred pounds, and do so safely in proper form. His golf even improved. He even dropped a few pounds through the years here and there, occasionally joking that Nabisco wasn’t going to get anymore of his money.
Though our workouts have always been results focused, conversations of life, politics, family, and sports are always present within the fiber of our exercise sessions. In fact, those conversations have been at the heart of this friendship. My conversations with George, even when of a serious nature, always had a positive tone. Nobody ever asked us to, but if challenged, George and I are prepared to save the world.
Witchcraft in the wind…
Maybe 5 years ago, George was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. The pragmatic engineer in him accepted that affliction with no resistance. He approached it with a resolve to wake up each day, and address Parkinson’s in the best way he could; stoically, and with a strong faith in western medicine. Though there is no cure for Parkinson’s at this time, his neurologist has excelled at helping George use medications to treat his symptoms. George’s wife, Judy, has been a supreme support system. He often refers to her as, The Project Manager.
In the years since his diagnosis, George’s physicality has suffered some, but not disappeared entirely. This is partially due to the disease itself, and partially due to the medications he uses to offset Parkinson’s. He still plays golf twice weekly, continues to exercise regularly, mows weeds, and periodically hunts for gophers, and squirrels on his property. His attitude and acceptance of the cards life has dealt him have been exceptional. We should all be so graceful under these circumstances.
A couple of years back he entered my studio one day, and I asked him how his golf outing went the day prior. This was his response:
“It was great!”
“I didn’t play too well, but the turkey sandwich was excellent, and my friends and I laughed a lot.”
I was as humbled by his attitude, as I was by the sincere smile on his face as he spoke. George and I often talk about how fortunate we both are, to the point of silliness, both grateful that we each seem to have won the lottery of birth.
George no longer leg presses several hundred pounds. Most of George’s workouts take place with a broom stick for resistance, and some 3 and 5 pound weights in his weathered hands. We work largely on balance, and with a secondary goal to minimize muscle wasting. He still gets pissed off when he misses a step on one particular balance exercise we do. He rests more during the sessions these days, and the conversation extends more as the exercise have been scaled back, but the time is still useful for us both – for us both.
There is no way to quantify how George’s functional strength workouts have helped offset his fight with Parkinson’s, or whether they have made a difference at all. The exercises themselves are quantifiable, but there are many variables involved with determining success; aging, medications, sleep, nutrition, etc. We both just agree, as does his neurologist, that he just keep moving. I have seen no data source which suggests people with Parkinson’s avoid exercise.
Of functionality, and fulfillment…
At a time when I struggle walking the line between the utility of functional exercise and the personal fulfillment of more intense exercise, George’s presence in my life has been a grounding factor. If I don’t hit a PR in the deadlift, I’m good with it. If i have trouble walking up stairs, I take notice.
George has paid me well for my time and resources through the years. As time has gone on, I ruminate more and more over all I have learned from George – about how to address aging, disease, and the perspective he applies to both. I have wondered increasingly, who should have been paying who all these years.
Passing of the torch…
The community George will be living has an onsite exercise facility, and a trainer to help facilitate exercise for the residents. He and I calculated that he would have roughly 20 training sessions left, and we both want to maximize them. I offered to capture some of our upcoming workouts onto video to share with his new trainer, and George agreed this was a good idea. This will not be about instructing the new trainer on how to work with George. Rather, this will be done so the trainer can more easily assess George’s limitations, and abilities.
I have great faith that the trainers there will help George continue on his path of most resistance. I can only hope they will appreciate his good nature, intellect, and wit, and warmth. I have worked with many clients of varying ages, and for varying reasons through the years – hundreds. It is an honor that George is the first person I induct into the Contemplative Fitness hall of fame.
My own father lived with Parkinson’s disease. He also died with it. Thoughts of the physical deterioration associated with this affliction resonate with me daily. Though the data is incomplete as to whether or not there is a genetic lineage, I somewhat expect it at some point. We’re not much for curing great diseases in recent years. Maybe we’re not supposed to. Perhaps the best we can do is to take care of ourselves well enough that we avoid disease, in hopes research will help us treat the symptoms as best we can should we ever become afflicted.
I have been writing this blog for many years now. I have done so strictly as a hobby. I have never asked that it be supported by donations, nor have I sought sponsorship. I ask today, one time only, if you have found value in reading this essay, please make even a small donation to the Davis Phinney Foundation, or a similar organization. Thank you, and be well… rc
Please check back in 2 weeks to see what happens when I push the “stop” button on the blender in my head. Oh, and there is this by The Kingston Trio. Enjoy…