"In January of 2019, at the age of 36, I received some news that would change my life. I have Parkinson's Disease."
That is how David Blanchard, a Pactimo Ambassador, begins his story. And, while that sort of news at such a young age might have led most to sit back and patiently wait for the disease to spread, David wasn't having any of that. Instead, he got into the best shape of his life. But it wouldn't be without its fair share of challenges.
"An estimated 6 million people worldwide have Parkinson's," David says. "And an estimated 60,000 new cases in the United States alone will be diagnosed this year."
"Some sources say about 10% of those diagnosed are early-onset (i.e. under the age of 50), like me. Despite the fact that there is no cure and that there's no way to know how my symptoms will progress since the disease is different for everyone, this diagnosis has caused me to realize how fortunate I truly am," he says. "I said this news changed my life. It has. It's helped me see the silver linings."
"Everyone has a burden to bear in life. Big or small, we all have something to carry. Don't get me wrong. The uncertainty of this disease is big and scary and I'd be lying if I said I was at peace with the news right away. Simple tasks like buttoning my shirt, finding something in my pants pocket, even brushing my teeth have become challenging. But this is not a death sentence. Instead, I decided to be open and honest about my condition - not because I was looking for anyone's pity or sympathy, but because if this is my new reality, I'm going to own it instead of it owning me."
David went public with his diagnosis back in April 2019 when he registered for the New England Parkinson's Ride and shared a link to my fundraising page on Facebook.
"A flood of text messages, emails, and calls accompanied the donations that were coming in. People I hadn't spoken to in years, some in decades, were donating money and offering words of encouragement," he says. "The doctors had told me back when I was diagnosed that regular exercise could be as beneficial as taking my medication and they couldn't have been more right. I now have a new purpose in life - to raise awareness that Parkinson's Disease affects people younger than you might think and to continue to raise money for The Michael J. Fox Foundation (@michaeljfoxora)."
David became a Pactimo Ambassador earlier this year and still rides consistently. We took a few moments to ask him some questions about how Parkinson's has affected his riding and what types of things he is now doing.
Pactimo: Is it true that you decided to do the New England Parkinson's Ride and you didn't even own a bike?
David Blanchard: It is. Before I went public about my diagnosis on social media April of 2019, I broke the news to some close friends at a party. They were obviously in shock, but when I told them I hoped to ride in the New England Parkinson's Ride, they were quick to point out the obvious fact that I didn't even own a bike to ride yet. However, one friend had a brother who was an avid cyclist so (I'm summarizing and oversimplifying here) she basically shared my story with him and asked him to donate one of his bikes to me, which he did. It was a custom-built, aluminum frame with not-the-best parts but the fact that it was given to me out of love and compassion by friends (and a stranger) means I'll never get ride of it. In fact, I currently have it hooked up to my Wahoo Kickr Snap for training on Zwift during the winter and on rainy days.
Pactimo: Are you still riding that bike?
DB: While the bike that was gifted to me will always hold a special place in my heart, I just got a Canyon Endurance CF SL Disc and I'm in love.
Pactimo: What is your favorite cycling memory?
DB: The New England Parkinson's Ride last September was meaningful for many reasons. Seeing so many of my friends, family, colleagues, coworkers, & clients turn out to support me was extremely special, not to mention being welcomed into the "family" of the NEPR ride community. I do remember one specific moment during the ride where I was looking at our little peloton and marveling at how many people were totally new to cycling and were getting "the bug" for the sport and how weird it was that my bad news had prompted a healthier more active lifestyle for others. That was pretty cool.
But I've also gotta mention a ride I did just this morning...I'm currently on vacation in Acadia National Park. I've been coming here every summer every single year of my life. As a kid, our family would always drive in the minivan up to the summit of Cadillac Mountain which, at 1,529 feet, is the highest point along the North Atlantic seaboard. Every so often we'd pass cyclists attempting to summit and I remember our family saying, "are they crazy?!?"
This morning I decided I was going to attempt the climb despite the less than favorable weather conditions (a dense, low fog with rather strong gusts). It was only less than 13 miles roundtrip and my stats on Strava are pretty terrible due to the conditions and *my* condition (sorry for the pun AND the excuses) but I'll never forget it. The weather deteriorated as I climbed to a point that it was probably foolish/unsafe for me to press on, but I can now consider myself joining the tribe of "crazies" my family had passed in the minivan on previous vacations, perhaps even more so due to the weather. Pretty rad. The climb wasn't actually all that bad and next year I'll attempt it again but, man, that weather sucked.
Pactimo: What is the plan for the 2020 New England Parkinson's Ride?
DB: The New England Parkinson's Ride is going virtual this year due to COVID-19 so on 9/12 our team will be leading the group rides locally (Western Massachusettes). We'll be doing two family-friendly 3-mile & 10-mile rides and one 30 or 50-mile ride for more experienced riders. Please feel free to visit my new donation page along with an update on my condition and struggles.
Anyone can join David's team "Silver Linings" whether they ride with them on 9/12 or on their own, wherever they are. The ultimate goal is to raise money for research to find a cure AND raise awareness about Parkinson's.
Interested in learning more about David and his journey? Read his original story (plus an addendum).
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