October 2011 - Team Ryan's Hope

“I believe you possibly have Parkinson’s disease” were the words I heard come out of my primary physician’s mouth.  I had gone to the doctor because of a lack of arm swing  on my right side and my handwriting had basically deteriorated over the past year.  I  thought possibly it was a stroke but now I am being told I have a chronic, progressive,  degenerative disease for which there is currently no cure.    How can this be?  I am a 41  year old man with my whole life ahead of me; this disease strikes senior citizens as the  body and brain ages.  It took a couple months of denial and second and third opinions to accept my diagnosis. By January 2011 I realized I had to take control of my body and my destiny.

I researched the internet for ways to raise funds for Parkinson’s research and a  cure.  I came across the Parkinson’s Unity Walk website which stated “Each year thousands  of People Living with Parkinson’s Disease, their families and friends gather in New York’s  Central Park for a gentle walk to raise awareness of Parkinson’s disease and funds for  research.”  Living in NJ, this was close and my thought was to go with my wife, Barbara, and daughter, Brittany, and raise some money for research.  On January 23, 2011, I emailed  a request to my friends, neighbors, family and co-workers.  I expected a group of 10  family members would take the train from Morristown to New York’s Central Park for the Walk.  By the day of the Parkinson’s Unity Walk 2011, Team Ryan’s Hope was 65 people  strong from all over the Mid-Atlantic Coast – NJ, NY, PA, and MD.   We had an army of  volunteers ready to do battle in the fight against Parkinson’s disease. We had to have a  uniform look so we ordered Team Ryan’s Hope T-shirts and our Unshakeable wrist bands.  Thank you to Instant Imprints for donating a Team Ryan’s Hope Banner for us to march with  and designing the shirts.

We raised funds as a group via the Unity Walk website, Facebook, flyers, and word  of mouth.  After three months of hitting up all our contacts, I was humbled by the fact we had raised over $16,000 for Parkinson’s research and was ranked in the Top 10 teams by the  day of the Walk.  Not a bad job for a rookie team!!!

I was anxious to meet others in the Parkinson’s community as well as the Unity Walk Team.  The day before the Walk, my family helped represent the Unity Walk at the TODAY show and met many great people in the Parkinson’s family (the Cantore and Potter  families), the Event Director( Helaine Isaacs) and the Today Show stars (Meredith Viera and Al Roker) – What a way to start the Unity Walk weekend!!! 

Being that we had massed such a great number of participants, we chartered a bus to transport our group. Thanks to Mike DeGatana & Bill Hart!   A good friend of mine, John Wohlgemuth, had acquired the fire department hall for us the day of the Walk. Through  donations from local restaurants and markets we were able to offer the group a nice pre- walk breakfast before the trek into NYC on the cloudy and chilly April morning as well as a celebratory luncheon upon our return from an inspirational and educational day.  Thank you to Sue Wohlgemuth for securing some of the food donations for the team.

One couple I was introduced to the day of the walk, was John & Edna Ball.  John was diagnosed with Parkinson’s and had continued his passion of marathon running well into his 60’s.!!!  “What do you do for exercise?” Edna asked me.  “I walk the dog a mile each day.”  “Not good enough! You have to get the heart beating, your body sweating, and the endorphins pumping in your brain” replied Edna.  They basically gave me the instructions to take back control of my body from Parkinson’s disease.  I cannot thank them enough for  inspiring me to take up running!!  I run about every other day of the week and have  completed four 5K races in just six months of meeting them.  Thank you, John & Edna Ball  for the words of wisdom and the inspiration to fight back against PD.

I would like to acknowledge the following companies for their financial contribution directly to Team Ryan’s Hope – Toys R Us, Signature Closing Services, Willow Settlement Services, Sweet Spot Bake Shoppe, The Morristown Columbian Club, The Knights of Columbus, and The Plaza Barber Shop.

Our entire Team Ryan’s Hope are the Shining Stars for their contributions to a  successful walk and fundraising event. In addition, I want to highlight those who went the  extra mile to raise an extraordinary amount of money for Parkinson’s research.  Included in this group of heroes are the Salerno Family, Rosemarie Bagnall, the Wohlgemuth Family,  Barbara Ryan, and Tim and Heather Ryan.

I created Team Ryan’s Hope as a way to create awareness of Parkinson’s disease on a  local and national level.  I had to become an active advocate for Parkinson’s and the Unity Walk gave me my voice to speak about a cause that not only impacts me but millions of others who may not be as able to.  Thank you to the staff of the Parkinson’s Unity Walk  for organizing and executing a memorable event that all my friends and family still speak  about. We are ready to make the 2012 PUW a bigger and even more successful event!  And  lastly, undying gratitude to the two women in my life – my wife, Barbara, and daughter,  Brittany.  This past year has been a wild ride since the Parkinson’s diagnosis and I  wouldn’t be doing any of this if it was not for their support and love.  Thank you for  joining me on this journey in the fight to cure Parkinson’s disease.     

John Ryan
Team Ryan’s Hope