Michael J. Fox was a big part of my childhood. Between the ages of 12 and 20, I watched him play Alex P. Keaton on television’s hit show Family Ties and Marty McFly in the successful Back to the Future franchise. In 1991, he started showing symptoms of early-onset Parkinson’s disease, but it wasn’t until 1998 that he went public with his diagnosis. In 2003, he released his memoir, Lucky Man, and announced the creation of the Michael J. Fox Foundation. While I’ve never met Michael J. Fox, I’ve always felt a connection to him. He was a symbol of my adolescence. In many ways I felt like I grew up with him even though he was 9 years older than me. I’m sure that’s true for many other Gen Xers that grew up watching and identifying with Fox. His story touched me enough that I remember shedding a few tears reading his memoir. 15 years later, his book still sits on my shelf in Arizona.
2½ weeks ago, I learned about Bret Parker while reading one of the bios posted on the World Marathon Challenge Facebook page prior to the race. Bret is the executive director of the New York City Bar Association. He also suffers from Parkinson’s Disease. At 49, Bret decided to run this year’s World Marathon Challenge to raise awareness and money to conquer this debilitating disease. Bret sits on the patient council of, you guessed it, The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research. Because of my affinity for Michael J. Fox, and my emotional connection to Parkinson’s, I was instantly drawn to Bret and his cause. That said, I’m really not one to engage someone in such a way that may potentially make them feel uncomfortable or draw attention to their challenge or health. It’s something I wish I was better at, but here I sit trying to do what I do best by writing my feelings versus engaging directly. So instead of speaking to Bret directly, for 7 days, on 7 continents, through 7 marathons, I cheered Bret on (along with Andrew) as we passed each other each race.
While Andrew and I finished between 4:15 and 4:30 each race, Bret was on those courses ranging between 6 hours and 22 minutes in Antarctica and 9 hours and 16 minutes in Lisbon. Let me help you understand what it meant for Bret to be out on a course for 9 hours and 16 minutes. Quite simply, it meant Bret got zero sleep, zero recovery, absolutely no time at all, between starting one race and boarding the bus for the airport the next morning for the next marathon. He was out there all night long, walking on extremely blistered feet, in the dark, fighting for himself and the estimated 7-10 million people that live with Parkinson’s Disease worldwide.
When I woke up this morning, I saw that Bret posted on Facebook that he was just $2,200 away from raising $250,000 for Team Fox and the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research. When you meet someone as inspiring as Bret, I immediately wanted to help him reach this monumental goal and decided that the first half of today’s Blog post on Marathon #4 of the World Marathon Challenge had to be about Bret and his story.
So, I decided to do something that made me uncomfortable and I sent Bret a Facebook message and told him about my plans to share his story as part of today’s World Marathon Challenge blog. He instantly responded and a dialogue ensued. A dialogue that had such an impact on me as we discussed how we cheered for each other each race. Then he shared his hope and desire that we heard his cheers for us as much as he heard our cheers for him. Let’s just say that his cheers, and his actions, had a profound impact on me that will last long after the excitement of the World Marathon Challenge dissipates. Beyond our dialogue, Bret was kind enough to share this quote for me to share with all of you describing his experience during the World Marathon Challenge.
“The World Marathon Challenge was the toughest and most wonderful experience of my life, so far. There were moments when I wasn’t sure I could finish, but the support of the other runners with me on the course and the global virtual community of the Michael J. Fox Foundation “Team Fox” family carried me over the 7 finish lines. I’ve just been floored by the generosity of friends and strangers who have donated, as well as the reaction and interest in this amazing adventure. Each of us ran for a different reason, with a different story, but each of us is proof that anything is possible – even a cure for Parkinson’s.” – Bret Parker
Please join me in making a contribution to help research a cure for Parkinson’s Disease by visiting fundraise.michaeljfox.org/bparker
I wanted to publish this blog post as quickly as possible this morning to hopefully have as much impact towards his fundraising goal. So, consider this Part I of II, and look for a more traditional “race report” on our 4th marathon in Dubai, later today!