Buried Treasure (What Parkinson’s Gave Me)

How Parkinson’s gave me a better long-range jumper, a better baseball throwing arm, and a better outlook on life!

I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease over a decade ago. I was 38. Parkinson’s is chronic, degenerative, and without a cure. Yet, over the last several years I’ve steadily improved my basketball and baseball games, deeply learning my capabilities in the process. Oh, and I also found both peace and purpose through Parkinson’s somewhere along the way!

Parkinson’s is a neurological condition with full-body consequences. Most people’s Parkinson’s troubles are movement-related. Some are most troubled by what’s referred to as non-motor symptoms.

My version of Parkinson’s has been relatively manageable, but not without significant effort. I am mostly hampered by stiffness, especially on my left side.

There are numerous additional ass-whippings. But we all carry the burden of chronic ass-whippings.

Parkinson’s can be brutal. But we’re able to exercise some control over its ravages. Ravaging my body with exercise has been of immeasurable value. But exercise is only the half of exercise. Psychological, emotional, even spiritual aspects of exercise are where most have ridiculous room for gains.

I didn’t set out to become a better baseball or basketball player or to find myself through movement in some way. I was just trying to feel better, do some things I enjoy. I accidentally stumbled into self-awareness and a newfound curiosity for mining treasures within.

If self-discovery weren’t thrust upon me, I never would have found deeper layers of self, others, or life. Perhaps something from my experience will resonate with you. Let nothing hold you back from noble pursuits.

Treasures Within 

More than anything, I’ve played. Played in all conditions, at all hours. Played at all levels of capability and through all measures of pain.

The more I’ve played ball, the more I’ve loved it. Everything about it. Sometimes the worse I’ve felt, the better it’s felt. The closer to death, the more alive.

I look pitiful at times, But through my eyes, in my mind, that’s when I’m accomplishing the most.

I learn something about myself almost every session. I’ve learned I’m obsessed with playing. While unhealthy to many, this is actually the healthiest decision one can make with Parkinson’s.

Candidly, it wasn’t really a decision. My body craves these movements, the rhythm and fluidity.  I’m just a passenger on that barrelling freight train.

Shooting basketballs, chasing them around the court, throwing baseballs, hitting baseballs, chasing baseballs around the field all feel like their own dances, all with a rhythm, a fluidity, then a flow.

At least flow is always the hope. Turns out, trying to achieve flow is one of the hardest ways to get there. I’m not sure I know what not trying means, but I know it has something to do with love or joy or freedom, perhaps all three.

Flow is full engagement in the present. It never looks back or ahead. It never compares past or present, nor theirs and mine. Flow is a wonderful feeling of connectivity and awareness. It need not end when you put the ball down.

Am I reaching Stephan Kotler-level flow? All I know is that I have a really difficult time quitting, and I often feel I’m in another world, liberated. Dopamine or some neurochemical drives me to places my body tells me not to tread.

Although I generally avoid deep thought when engaged in exercise/play, some thought is inevitable during a two or three-hour session. I concluded that all my actions are motivated by one of three things: fear, desire, or love.

Two of these motives have limits. One is unlimited. When motivated by love, be it love for what I’m doing, who doing with, love for a higher power, whatever (love is love), there’s nothing to hold me back, nothing to push me down.

There’s no limit to love. There’s no limit to self.

More Specific

My left side is slowly deteriorating. So I‘ve learned to throw and shoot left-handed. This seems to have awakened a normally disengaged part of the brain. I spend the first 15 or so minutes oppo, then pop back over to my right side. I have improved strong side and weak side athletically. Noticeably improved. I’m convinced opposite side training would be highly beneficial for anyone, no matter the level.

I tirelessly experiment. Closing my eyes to awaken dulled senses, playing with a full, pressing bladder (yes, it’s a training tool – use everything at your disposal), playing through pain and as medication wears off. Lots of the last thing.

Playing uncomfortably forces adaptations that are very useful when playing comfortably. With Parkinson’s, I seek to re-purpose symptoms to treat symptoms.

Rather than throwing a whole bucket of baseballs, then retrieving them, I often throw one or two, run down to pick them up, then return to do it again and again. I take no throws for granted when forced to earn the right to them. Training is more qualitative than quantitative.

I’ve made habit of running to retrieve the ball. I get more attempts, stay in rhythm, get more exercise, and create expectations of excellence.

I always use music to get something extra out of myself, to help establish a rhythm. I’m obsessed with rhythm. Rhythms are vital. They will keep me playing. They make me come back.

I’ve become very familiar with how my body moves, how it feels when it’s right. After enough repetitions, my body knows what to do. Mind just gets in the way.

Where and when I play matters. I have the opportunity to practice at a Division III university campus near home. I availed myself to the baseball team and in return was given access to the batting cage, practice field, and a chance to shag (don’t think Austin Powers) lots of baseballs for the team. This setting has been invaluable.

The University basketball courts have chains on the rims instead of nets. Every time I hear the jingle of chains, dopamine or some neurochemical lights up neural pathways.

And getting reps in at sunrise, or under a full moon??? Ha! Where do you think I stand on that? Don’t skimp on the exclamation points in your response!!!

No matter what, I give no thought to missed or errant throws – at least that’s the plan. If I miss 100 in a row, it doesn’t matter. Did I enjoy what I was doing? Did I give all I had? Did I feast on freedom? Then that’s enough. What, I’m going to change the world with any shot, any throw?

I’m only competing with myself – and only in that moment. My only challenge is overcoming the urge of being less than capable. Preferable perspective: I’m blessed with the opportunity to live fully, full-time.

Practice Has No Start, No Finish

Learning to stay calm here trains staying calm there. Learning to keep my attention here trains holding my attention wherever here is.

How I do anything is how I do everything. Everything with care. There are no small things. Everything is connected.

Living in alignment and true to self off the field allows play to feel free when on. Am I clear about who I am? Do I seek the approval of others or do I have the strength to walk alone?

Be kind and generous. You’ll feel good about yourself as a side benefit. You’ll be kind to yourself. That’s a good place from which to perform well.

The mindset of an athlete is conducive to training and performing. It induces confidence to believe anything is possible. Since everything is connected, my approach to life with a ball in my hand varies little from life without.

I owe an enormous amount, beyond enormous, to two great athletes and even better people for caring so much to teach me some of what they know. I can’t imagine where I’d be without Matt and David. They are big reasons why my mission is to help others navigate their challenges.

Wife Amy, however, is most responsible for my ability to maintain physical and mental health. Her sacrifices for my sake…that’s the most powerful treatment I receive.

Better Because of

Nobody ever told me that life with Parkinson’s could be like this. Maybe they did and I just failed to listen.

My inner treasure is layered, each unlocked by its own adversity. Life for me is sometimes difficult. It’s never unfulfilling.

Stand up, let go, and flow forward, Parkinson’s or none.

Look within for buried treasure. When you find your inner-athlete you’ll know you’re just scratching its surface.

There is a legendary story about normally immobile people with Parkinson’s who fled their home when under missile-fire in a war zone.

What’s my missile-fire? What will it take for me to go beyond? I trust that when forced to excavate, I’ll find the treasure within.

Today and every day I will:

  • Live like I matter. I believe I do.
  • Live like I matter to others. I believe I do.
  • Live like others matter to me. They do!

This is what Parkinson’s gave to me.  What were you given to unlock your treasure?

Me in my element:

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