Imagine being 27 years old and learning that you have a progressive neurodegenerative disease, a disease for which there is treatment but really no cure. Imagine that you have spent your life being successful in both your career and as an athlete and now you see it all coming to an end. And imagine that you are so shocked, and in so much denial, that it takes you months after diagnosis to even share that news with your spouse.
That’s the story that Jimmy Choi shared with us on Wednesday evening at a community education program hosted by the Jewish Home family in conjunction with our friends at Englewood Health and the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades. It’s the fourth in our series of community education program on Parkinson’s disease and part of our broader, nationally recognized Parkinson’s Center.
Jimmy told us about the eight years following his diagnosis, years where he was depressed and despondent, when he gained a tremendous amount of weight, fell often and was reliant on a cane to walk. Then one day, holding his infant son, Jimmy fell down a flight of stairs. He managed to keep his son from injury and found that he was left with more than bruises—he was left with a resolve to change his life.
He began walking, then running, then taking on competitive runs. He was inspired to train for a marathon and has run several as well as ultramarathons and triathlons. And he has competed three times on television’s American Ninja Warrior. Jimmy shared his story and his struggles with warmth, humor and total openness with the audience.
Two things particularly resonated with me during his talk. Jimmy shared that his philosophy was, and is, to tell himself “just a little bit more, just a little bit more.” From the beginning of his journey back, he would tell himself to take one more step, climb one more stair, and do one more thing, whatever that thing was. It struck me that Jimmy’s simple mantra is one that all of us could use. If we applied those words to anything we are trying to achieve, what would it do for us? Regardless of our goal, pushing ourselves that tiny bit further, consistently, sounds simple but yet so powerful.
The second impression that I will carry for a very long time involved a bench on the stage that was laden with 10 pound plate weights. Jimmy had a backpack on stage and he talked about all of the symptoms and issues that confront someone with Parkinson’s disease. Each of these issues was represented by one of these 10 pound weights and, as he told us each one, he put that plate into the backpack. At the end, the backpack was crammed with 100 pounds of weight and Jimmy hoisted it, strapped it on his back and proceeded to do a full pushback while laden with all of this weight.
Jimmy’s point with this visual aid was to help us understand what the individual with Parkinson’s is carrying with them every day, that their struggle to manage their disease and its complexities is like carrying this heavy burden at all times. And that, with determination and fight, each person can push their own abilities and capabilities.
We all carry our own weights on our backs. We have our own burdens that weigh us down. And yet, we all have the chance to do what Jimmy did—to give a name to each of our challenges, to acknowledge them and then to push ourselves to go past them. Just a little bit more, just a little bit more each time.