BY DELANEY DALY
Pioneer Staff Writer
BEMIDJI – Eleven years ago, Chuck Austad of Bemidji was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease – a diagnosis to an estimated 50,000 people annually in the U.S.
“The thing about Parkinson’s is that you lose the ability to do the things you used to,” Chuck said.
He and his wife, Anne, have attended support meetings for the past 10 years, where they talk with others who suffer from the disease.
“It’s about education and support,” said Chuck.
“Care partners need it, too, so we are able to talk confidentially about the challenges that come with dealing with Parkinson’s,” Anne added.
A neuro-degenerative disease, Parkinson’s begins affecting the brain usually years before it is detected.
Now they are helping organize and host Bemidji’s first Pedal and Roll for Parkinson’s event.
The bike ride starts at 9 a.m. Aug. 25 at the Paul Bunyan Trailhead parking lot near Lincoln School, and will last until noon. The event is open to the public.
Of the total number of those living with Parkinson’s, around 85 percent are adults older than 50. As of today, there exists no known cure for Parkinson’s.
“The first signs of Parkinson’s occur years before an onset of symptoms or diagnosis,” Chuck said. “It is not easy to diagnose.”
Along with the physical symptoms of Parkinson’s – which include rigidity, tremors and slow movement – there are also mental health issues that can influence those diagnosed.
“Anxiety is a big part of it, Chuck said, “Many people with Parkinson’s don’t enjoy social situations.”
Anne said that both are still learning to cope.
When the couple discovered the group Pedal and Roll for Parkinson’s, they took to it instantly.
“We thought, ‘Wow, this is interesting,’” said Anne.
Founded in March 2011 by Liz Ogren, Pedal and Roll is a cycling club for people who undergo the inhibitory effects of Parkinson’s.
Ogren, a fifth-grade school teacher, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2007.
“I’m young to have Parkinson’s, I needed to keep moving,” Ogren said, “When I’m moving, I’m fighting.”
Exercise has been proven to be an effective way of dealing with Parkinson’s. By creating natural endorphins and releasing dopamine, PD symptoms can decrease.
After starting to ride bike for herself, Ogren said her outlook is better, and she is happier.
What started out as a single event for Liz has now reached greater Minnesota.
“After that first event, it just wasn’t enough,” she said.
Ogren is quite pleased with the opportunity to give people “a chance to see what they can do.”
“It’s about giving people that first step,” she said, “exercise helps in freeing people to take back their movement, their life.”
This idea struck home for the Austads.
“Exercise is tricky for people with Parkinson’s,” admitted Anne, “But Liz is taking a positive way of dealing with it.”
Not only is the couple looking forward to spending time with other supporters on the Paul Bunyan trails in Bemidji, they are also excited to try out some new equipment.
“None of us have ever been on a recombinant,” Anne said, “We’ll want to experience what it’s like.”
“The objective is to be stable,” said Ogren, stating that with the help of her siblings, there will be a variety of tandems, tricycles, and bicycles for public use.
Enthused to be focusing on this event, Chuck Austad remarked, “It’s a gracious thing that Liz and her siblings are doing,” he said. “Some think exercise is next to medication.”
The Austads are looking forward to the local support they can find through cycling and exercise.
“Hope is made annually,” Anne said, “That’s why we have to try it.”
Still planning future events for the Pedal and Roll club, Liz said, “It’s exciting to see people getting revved up.”
Pedal and Roll is one of the Parkinson’s disease outreach programs in Minnesota.
“People need each other,” Ogren said, adding that the group plans to meet at Paul and Babe at 8:00am before the ride to introduce themselves and take pictures as a group, “There is a bond of understanding.”
BY DELANEY DALY