Share Your Story
An Interview with Dan Kiefer
Dan Kiefer, a member of PDF’s People with Parkinson’s Advisory Council (PPAC) and a long-time member of Team Parkinson, a group that raises money for PD research, is familiar with the challenges and rewards a marathon brings. Below, he shares reflections on distance running with PDF’s News & Review.
Q. Dan, thank you for chatting with News & Review! We would love to hear about your marathon experiences. Can you tell us a bit about the races you have completed?
A. I ran the Los Angeles Marathon in 2006. It was my first and, so far, only full marathon. I also ran half-marathons in 2004 and 2007, along with several 5k races. These races have been empowering experiences for me personally. I have used each race to raise money, through Team Parkinson, for PD-related research.
Q. What inspired you to start? Were you always a runner?
A. I’ve always loved exercise — I played golf and skied and I was a recreational runner — but before I was diagnosed with PD, I had never run more than eight miles. I first became involved in distance running through John Ball and Team Parkinson. John has run many marathons and lived with PD for over 25 years. I owe a lot to the encouragement I received from him and his wife, Edna.
Q. Marathons and half-marathons are challenging for people with and without PD. Can you explain the benefits of running in general and of longer races?
A. First, running has so many physical benefits. Since my PD can make it difficult for me to stay still, I find that when I am running, my symptoms actually improve. In my opinion, running is also the best antidepressant. Marathons and half-marathons give a great sense of accomplishment. It is a good feeling to not allow PD to limit what I can do. It was also wonderful to have so much support on the course — to run by cheering friends, family and team members.
Q. Can you tell us about the challenges you experienced during the marathon, and any that are specific to being a marathoner with PD?
A. Marathoners always talk about ‘hitting the wall’ and I certainly did, around mile 18. The last eight miles were particularly painful. In terms of PD, I have to be very careful in the timing of my medications, and invariably, at some point, I experience PD symptoms and have to medicate. I carry some of my meds with me on the course. In my everyday life, I basically can’t move in the morning until my pills begin to work, and I experience “wearing off” intermittently.
Q. How do you feel about being a person with PD in a marathon, where most runners may not face the same obstacles that you do?
A. Proud! I think that when people with PD run a marathon, it raises awareness of PD and among many people, reminds them that not everyone with PD is limited to a wheelchair or to certain activities. I am open about what I have and proud of the things that I can do to defy it, or despite it.
Q. How has your life changed since you began running?
A. Running these races has taught me to be a lot less self-conscious about my PD and how it affects my gait. Before I started running, I didn’t want anybody to notice my symptoms. I wouldn’t tell anyone that I had PD and I tried to hide it. The marathon and half-marathon races and training runs helped change that. I also feel very good about the money I’ve raised to help fund Parkinson’s research.