Alumnus Bret Parker . was featured in a Washington Post article about his completion of the World Marathon Challenge, in which athletes run seven marathons on seven continents in seven days. He ran the marathons to increase awareness about Parkinson’s disease and raise money for research.
During the first marathon, Bret Parker felt great – for the first 15 miles of ice and snow.
“I was chugging along, and I had no symptoms,” he recalled the next day. “I was running a good pace. I said, ‘You got this.’ ”
He paused. “And that was the kiss of death. I started slowing down. It got colder. It got windier.”
It was Jan. 30, and Bret was running a marathon on Antarctica. It wasn’t actually that cold for most of the race – about 20 degrees. But it was windy. And Bret has Parkinson’s disease. Like the 50 or so others on this adventure, he wore ski goggles and trail shoes and lots of layers. Unlike them, he carried a tiny plastic bag of pills that he was regularly popping to keep the stiffness, cramping and tremors of Parkinson’s at bay.
The symptoms came anyway. The route on Antarctica, six laps around a four-mile loop at a Russian research station called Novolazarevskaya, featured endless vistas of blue ice all around – like Caribbean waters, only frozen. He walked a lot over the final 10 miles. But with a quarter-mile to go, he started running again. He could feel a symptom coming on that he had experienced only rarely since he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s 11 years ago, at age 38: an uncontrollable, head-to-toe shivering. He knew he had to get inside.
When he crossed the finish line in just under 6 hours, 23 minutes, Bret’s hands had curled up, his calves were cramping and he struggled to speak. He stopped to record a video to post online for the friends and family members following his progress. But he was in such bad shape that the event organizers put him on a snowmobile for the ride back to shelter.
“It took me a while to finally settle down,” he recalled. “Then we got back on the plane.”
Less than eight hours later, Bret lined up at another starting line along the southern tip of Africa, ready to do it all over again.