To say the gang at the Parkinson’s Unity Walk organization is an amazing group of people is a gross understatement. I credit them for kick-starting the regimen that has me feeling healthier and stronger than I ever have in my life. When I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease (my six-year “anniversary” is January 2013), I was in pretty good shape except for my tremor. As the years (and the tremor) have progressed, things got predictably more difficult. I’ve played the piano since I was five, I’m a writer who loved to keep a journal, I love to drive and used to own a sports car with a manual transmission. By year four of my disease, I could no longer play the piano, hold a pen or drive a stick shift vehicle. I didn’t exactly give up, but I’d decided that being sick was my lot in life. That I would always be tired and nauseated, too shaky to do much, in a word … weak.

The picture in this blog post was taken a couple of weeks ago. I am dead lifting 115 pounds. I weigh 125. I took my mom to the gym with me recently so she could see one of my workouts. When I leaned over to pick up the weight, she reflexively said, “Don’t hurt yourself!” And then she watched me to do three sets of six repetitions with that weight.

Endurance training alone didn’t get me here. It was a combination of a friend and Unity Walk organizer who reached out and directed me to a movement disorder specialist more suited to my needs, a devoted personal trainer who got the entire gym staff emotionally invested in my progress, my new doctor’s adjustment of my meds, and my own desperate desire to regain some measure of control over my body. My first Unity Walk was in April 2007, and I hope to never miss one. The team that runs the organization is selfless and caring, and the friendships I have forged with them and the Unity Walk network have had a profoundly positive effect on my well-being.

I have had several people ask me what endurance training involves, and as I start to give them the rundown of my daily workouts, they lose a little bit of color in their face. It isn’t easy. There were days when I cried in my car. Days when I didn’t want to get out of bed. Days when I thought I was nuts for even trying. And the tricky part with Parkinson’s is that you really have to listen closely to what your body is telling you. There’s the “I need a break” moan and groan from an aching muscle you can still push, and there’s the “Please lie down before you die” muscle pain that tells you it’s too much.

Truthfully, it’s attitude. Mental resolve. Emotional strength. And the support of friends and family who keep rooting for me no matter what. Because the mind needs the workout as much as the body does. The tremor has abated dramatically for now. And it feels amazing. But I’m a realist, and I know that although I may take a day off to get some rest, Parkinson’s will not. But I’ve got an army of friends and family there to help me keep fighting.