Kevin was diagnosed with Parkinson’s 9 years ago, when he was 57. Here he talks about how important physical activity and exercise has been in managing his symptoms, and how he continues to climb the hills near his home in Northumberland, with the help of his new ebike.
A former semi-pro and professional football player, Kevin was a serving firefighter and the station’s fitness instructor when he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s.
“At the time, my symptoms were quite minor - my handwriting was affected and perhaps I had the merest hint of a tremor in my right arm when I was resting.” says Kevin.
“My specialist was aware of my job so he knew I had a high level of strength and fitness, but in later appointments, we talked about how important exercise is in managing symptoms.”
Kevin stayed in the fire service for a further 3 and a half years after his diagnosis. He explains: “I decided to retire when the tremor in my arm started to affect my work. If I wasn’t able to give 100% in emergency situations, it was going to be a problem. But until then, I passed all the annual medical reviews I had.
“Even since retirement, I’ve been lucky my symptoms haven’t progressed quickly, but my specialist believes my exercise regime has helped me to combat this. So for me, I believe there is no alternative.”
Having always been so fit, there was a stubbornness about admitting that ageing and the progression of Parkinson’s may be having an impact.
Cycling has always been a passion for Kevin, but in the last couple of years the enjoyment he got from cycling was becoming harder to find.
“I began finding that the hills were getting difficult to climb and I was struggling more. I’d often get annoyed with myself,” Kevin admits.
“There were occasions when I would drive miles away from home with my bike in the car to find a flat route. Sometimes I simply couldn’t be bothered facing the effort involved cycling anywhere at all.
“Having always been so fit, there was a stubbornness about admitting that ageing and the progression of Parkinson’s may be having an impact.”
If I’m at home watching TV, I notice the dyskinesia in my foot and the tremor in my arm. My walking isn’t always great. But getting out on the bike sees all those symptoms disappear.
Finding a solution
Around this time, Kevin was reading more in cycling magazines about the increasing popularity of electric bikes. An ebike looks like a normal bike, but has an electric motor and battery attached, which can give you an assisted boost when needed.
“I started talking to my wife about ebikes,” says Kevin. “They are not cheap, but we both agreed it could be a good option - and it has turned the whole cycling experience around for me.”
Now Kevin goes out on the bike 3 or 4 times a week and can cover up to 30 miles at a time. “Before I got the ebike, any hard effort on the bike would make the tremor in my arm much worse - not great when you are on the road! But now, I can pass people on hills without much effort and no routes are off-limits.”
“Cycling is my escape. If I’m at home watching TV, I notice the dyskinesia in my foot and the tremor in my arm. My walking isn’t always great. But getting out on the bike sees all those symptoms disappear.”
“I can cycle among this stunning scenery feeling like nothing is physically wrong with me. It’s calming, exhilarating - and feels like freedom.”