“I don’t have Parkinson’s when I’m on my bike.”
— Larry Smith, an avid cyclist who has had Parkinson’s disease for 19 years
A puzzling aspect of Parkinson’s disease, a degenerative disorder of the central nervous system, is that it might seriously impair some motor functions, such as walking, but leave intact another, such as bicycling.
A story in The New York Times last March described the case of a 58-year-old man in the Netherlands who had been afflicted with Parkinson’s for 10 years. As related by Dr. Bastiaan R. Bloem of the Radboud University in Nijmegen, the man could walk only a few trembling steps before falling, but he could ride a bicycle with no visible signs of his disease.
Bloem made a video and took photos of the man trying to walk and then riding his bike. The photos and video were published in the April 1 issue of The New England Journal of Medicine.
Smith, 61, who has had Parkinson’s for 19 years, “bikes to work every day and this summer will be cycling 300 miles across his state to speak with support groups about the benefits of cycling, staying active and keeping positive,” said an e-mail I received on Wednesday from Andrew Rubin, a San Diego-based filmmaker who is co-directing and producing a documentary on Smith and his planned ride.
“Larry says that when he rides his bike he doesn’t have Parkinson’s,” Rubin wrote. “He can ride up to 30 miles a day but often can’t walk across a room unassisted.”
Rubin said that his film, Ride with Larry, aims “to put a human face on the day-to-day fight against Parkinson’s.” A main focus of the film, he said, will be the benefits of cycling for Parkinson’s sufferers.
Smith rides a bright-red, three-wheeled recumbent Catrike and is a familiar sight on local roads as he spends afternoons tooling around rural South Dakota, the trike’s orange pennant flying in the breeze. The recumbent doesn’t require balance and allows the rider to rest on the road when needed.
In June, Smith plans to ride about 280 miles from Aberdeen, in northeast South Dakota, to his home in Vermillion, in the southeast corner of the state. The website for the ride said that Smith will speak at each day’s stop along the route to a support group of the Parkinson Association of South Dakota.
“During each visit, Larry will share the joys and benefits of cycling for Parkinson’s sufferers with extra trikes available for trying out,” the website says.
Catrike, the company that made Smith’s bike, is to donate a trike as a gift to a Parkinson’s patient chosen at random during the event.
“The original idea was for Larry to bike across the United States,” his niece and one of the filmmakers, Katie Skow, told Jill Callison of the Argus Leader newspaper of Sioux Falls, S.D., in a story published Thursday. “The condition he’s in and the stage of his Parkinson’s, it’s not realistic. But he’s going to ride South Dakota, which for someone like Larry is a huge, huge undertaking.”
See how to support the ride through KickStarter.com, a funding platform for creative projects around the world, and take a look at the trailer for the film Ride with Larry.