A Pedaling for Parkinson’s interview by Anna Brodarick, the marketing and communications director at the Kishwaukee Family YMCA.
Last month, I had the opportunity to sit down with Jan Edwards, a faithful member of the Kishwaukee Family YMCA for over a decade. I’ve noticed Jan pass my office for the last year on her way to Pedaling for Parkinson’s — a specialty class offered Tuesdays and Thursdays in our cycling room led by instructor Karen Villano.
I had seen Jan’s photo featured in the Daily Chronicle for her participation in Rock Steady Boxing for Parkinson’s next door at the Northwestern Wellness Center, and I took the opportunity to ask her about it. This led to a wonderful conversation and eventually interview where she shared her story and what makes her such a consistent attendee at our programs.
About Pedaling for Parkinson’s
Pedaling for Parkinson’s is a nationwide program created to help those living with the disease to stay active. The format is simple: cyclists begin their 45-minute class with a five-to-10-minute warmup that leads into a hill climb or other challenging expedition led by an instructor. Each participant can choose their preferred resistance, incline and speed. After the heart of the workout, the group does a five-to-10-minute cooldown before finishing up for the day. Like many of our group fitness class offerings, the strength is in the community culture that motivates participants to keep coming back.
Time to Ask for Help
As a lifelong teacher and international tour guide, Jan was used to a fast daily pace. She knew something was off when her walking slowed down, speech quieted and handwriting went from “perfect-Palmer-method” to scribble. It was time to ask for help. After seeking professional consultation, Jan received her Parkinson’s diagnosis.
While there is no cure for Parkinson’s, its progress can be slowed, and one of the most effective methods is regular exercise. This knowledge was all Jan needed to get started with a regular routine. She knew it had to be more than just walking down the block — she needed to find a challenging and consistent program that worked. That’s when she discovered Pedaling for Parkinson’s at the Kishwaukee Family YMCA which has made an incredible impact on her personal health.
Jan’s doctor told her “Whatever you’re doing at the Y and the Wellness Center, keep it up because it’s working!” Jan attends Rock Steady Boxing for Parkinson’s at Northwestern three days a week, and our Pedaling for Parkinson’s class at the YMCA twice a week.
Jan’s movement disorder specialist measures her on a regular basis to track the progression of her Parkinson’s. The lower the number, the better. As a result of her commitment to exercise five times a week, she has worked her way down from a measurement of 34 to 13.
As inspiration to others, Jan said “I can verify it worked for me. The more I exercise, the better I get at it.”
Pedaling as a Snowbird
About ten years ago, Jan and her husband began spending part of their year in Sebring, Florida. When they originally arrived, Jan was determined to continue her exercise routine. While the gym she originally joined didn’t offer Pedaling for Parkinson’s, she was soon drawn to the YMCA of Sebring where she met health and wellness director Dimitri Baussan along with several other employees who were interested in helping bring the program to their YMCA.
I was able to get in touch with Dimitri who shared, “She [Jan] is the reason I started Pedaling for Parkinson’s at our Y. Her drive, perseverance and dedication she puts into helping people with Parkinson’s is really extraordinary. She is an inspiration and a model to follow.”
After instructors received the proper training, Pedaling for Parkinson’s was able to be offered and Jan was able to attend her preferred exercise class and experience consistent community once again. In a serendipitous conversation, Jan ended up giving an interview with a local newspaper, which led to substantial growth in the Pedaling program at the YMCA of Sebring.
During her time in Sebring, Jan felt committed to the class not just because of the health benefits, but also because the part she played to help get the group started. Both Pedaling for Parkinson’s and Rock Steady Boxing for Parkinson’s offer her a reliable community connection. In both classes, Jan shared, “We all have one thing in common — we all have Parkinson’s. In a way, we’re a support group for each other.”
Similar to the natural community that forms in many of our group fitness classes at the YMCA, friendships develop and exercising together becomes less of a chore and more of a social engagement with the benefit of health and exercise. Jan’s Kishwaukee Family YMCA group has gotten together regularly for coffee at a member’s home to share stories and spend time getting to know one another outside of Pedaling for Parkinson’s. This is something she has found in all three local exercise classes she attends—Pedaling for Parkinson’s, Silver Sneakers and Rock Steady Boxing.
It’s inspiring to hear about an experience like Jan’s where dedicated exercise has led to such tangible results. When I asked what Jan would like to share, she said “The programs here really work!” Obviously we can look at the data from her movement disorder specialist to prove it, but from my perspective, her enthusiasm for the program and the people she exercises with speaks even more loudly. For Jan, exercise is something that allows her to keep an active lifestyle and have support around living with Parkinson’s.
If you would like to learn more about Pedaling for Parkinson’s, contact the YMCA at 815.756.9577 or visit kishymca.org/pedaling-for-parkinsons.