"When it comes to Parkinson's, there are no barriers" - Mags's story

Mags was at the start of a new chapter of her life when she was diagnosed with Parkinson’s.

Passionate about physical activity, she was determined her diagnosis wouldn’t slow her down.

A decade on, she’s still crossing finishing lines and proving herself right.

As the country was gripped with Olympic fever in the summer of 2012, Mags was preparing to move from Essex to Devon to enjoy a well-earned early retirement. But with the greener, more rural and slower pace of life, came the time to notice things weren’t quite right.

“I became aware of a tremor in my left hand,” remembers Mags. “My mother had an essential tremor, but when I looked up my symptoms, I realised I had a resting tremor.

“Alongside that, my daughter told me my left arm wasn’t swinging as much as my right arm when I walked. I also had a dragging sensation around my mouth when I was concentrating while driving. Those three things together made me think I had Parkinson’s,” Mags admits.

By the time she was diagnosed with the condition, it came as no real surprise. “It wasn’t a relief to be told, but more of an acceptance of what I’d already worked out.

“I knew bits and pieces about Parkinson’s. An uncle had it, and around the same time I was diagnosed, Billy Connolly revealed his own diagnosis.

“I didn’t dwell on it or read too much about it, though. My idea was to keep active and to keep my exercise going.”

I’d encourage anyone to keep active, or start a new activity - it’s just so important mentally as well as physically.

"...I run better than I walk!"

Mags has always enjoyed walking, cycling and gardening. For 40 years, she has been a keen runner and joined her local running club when she moved to the south west.

She had just completed an England Athletics course enabling her to lead running sessions when she received her Parkinson’s diagnosis.

“Parkinson’s didn’t stop that. I just wanted to get on with what I could do and encourage others to do the same.

“I don’t have any evidence for this, but I feel like I run better than I walk!” laughs Mags. “It’s great for coordination, for agility and for mental concentration - I’m thinking all the time about where my feet are landing, for example.

“I’d encourage anyone to keep active, or start a new activity - it’s just so important mentally as well as physically.

“The feeling I get after I’ve exercised is brilliant and I’ve found it’s an excellent way of combating depression that is so common in Parkinson’s. Without as much naturally produced dopamine as people without the condition, it feels good to get the endorphins in my system!”

Further and fastest

In Essex, Mags mainly ran on the track, but in Devon, she has found her groove in multi-terrain events and increased the distances she runs.

2 years after she was diagnosed, she competed in the Bournemouth Half Marathon with her youngest daughter, Lizzie, for Parkinson’s UK. And 2 years after crossing that finishing line, she was at it again, this time with her eldest daughter, Sarah. Together they completed The Great Escape - Mags’s second half marathon since her diagnosis and her first event on Dartmoor.

After completing the full 18.5 miles of the aptly named Hartland Hartbreaker, Mags decided to take on her biggest challenge yet. “I thought if I could run that distance, I could do a marathon. So in 2018, I signed up for the Eden Marathon in Cornwall.

“The race was around the time of my ruby wedding anniversary and my husband, Colin, had always vowed to ride 100 miles in a day on his bike to mark the occasion. I joined him on training rides, which was really beneficial for my race preparation.

“The day of the marathon itself was great fun. I completed the event in just over 5 hours and was the first woman in the over- 60s category to finish - I was delighted!”

Mags most recently combined running and cycling in a 40km duathlon and has now raised nearly £7,000 for Parkinson’s UK. “On a day-to-day basis, you don’t often realise how many people are behind you. But the comments I got on my JustGiving page were all so nice, it gives you a great buzz. I’m glad I’ve managed to inspire people in their own lives.”

So what’s next? Mags laughs: “I don’t have anything planned at the moment, but I’m sure there will be something!”

I’ve achieved more than I expected and Parkinson’s has almost been irrelevant in that.

Quiet determination

Mags’s diagnosis coincided with the life-changing events of relocating, retirement and her mum passing away.

“Looking back, I almost felt worse before I found out about Parkinson’s than I did afterwards,” says Mags. “I was definitely not very buoyant at points - that’s probably the best way to put it.”

Since then, Mags has been quietly determined. “I’ve achieved more than I expected and Parkinson’s has almost been irrelevant in that.

“Of course, a day without it would be quite nice to experience,” she concedes. “I’m stiffer than I used to be - I used to skip over stiles, but I now take things a bit more slowly and steady.

“I also don’t sleep as well as I did. Although lots of people I know don’t sleep too well, so that may just be an age thing!

“But my family is a huge support and I have some lovely friends I’ve made through the running community - all people I never knew 10 years ago.

“My aim has always been to keep control of the condition. For me, when it comes to Parkinson’s, there are no barriers.”

  • Whether you have Parkinson’s or live with someone who does, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. But being active can help manage Parkinson’s symptoms, and have a positive impact both physically and mentally. You can find out more here.