Parkinson’s Disease No Match for Marathoner’s Desire

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This blog may only resonate with those converging on Hopkinton Green on Monday. Or it could attract the attention of an even braver group.

And there’s a chance it could be of interest only to me.

When the gun goes off on Patriots' Day, I’ll be thinking of John Carchedi. He is, to me, the king of all marathoners — not because we share first and last names and not because he takes on 15 of the monsters each year. It’s because the man is outrunning Parkinson’s disease.

"Sure, there was a time when I asked, 'Why me?'" John admits. "Then again, I have to think, I have a wonderful wife and what did I do to deserve her?"

This incarnation of JC is actually a 60-year-old Texan, a guy who started running years ago when an old girlfriend told him he needed to lose weight.

"I liked to eat," the man admits.

Turned out he could do more on the roads than drop pounds. He was good at it, and he went on to complete 26.2 miles countless times, all over the country, backed for the last several decades by his wife, Joy, a lady who’s a lot more supportive than the ex.

Life was well. It stayed that way until a training run 10 years ago. That’s when the body started breaking the news.

"All the sudden, my leg got stiff and I couldn’t go anymore," he explains. "I stretched on the ground and I was fine. Then it happened with more and more frequency. Then my hand started shaking. My wife convinced me to see a neurologist fearing the worst. We were right to fear the worst." 

When the doctor told him he might as well forget about his running, John paused.

"What the heck. I might as well try," he said. "Most people with Parkinson’s can live a fairly long life if they take care of themselves, and exercise is number one on that list. There’s new research indicating strenuous exercise may slow it down, not just in the muscles but in the brain."

So now his national marathon circuit has added purpose: Raise awareness and offer hope for others with this diabolical disease.

"I’m not comfortable with the term role model," he says when asked if he sees himself as one. "I see myself as an example of what can be done. I guess I just want people to know it’s not a death sentence.

"Some people have a disease that progresses more rapidly. I don’t want them to blame themselves if they can’t get out there. It’s not their fault. My message is to do as much as you can do. You are limited, yes, but not that limited."

John has help from medication, and some runs are better than others. Sometimes he feels great. Other times he falls. And all the while, he knows he may not be able to outleg the beast forever. The marathons will someday cease.  Rather than cower from the inevitable, he attacks it, as if it were a Wellesley hill.  

"One day it will happen. I don’t want any regrets when that day comes. I don’t want to say, ‘What if?’"

I hope, before that day has a chance to arrive, John runs Boston. I know I’m interested in meeting him. I think there are some brave runners and braver fighters around here who should meet him too.

John runs for Team Fox, Michael J. Fox’s endeavor to raise money for Parkinson’s research. To learn more, visit teamfox.org.

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