Pikes Peak – Raising Awareness for Parkinson’s
By: Robert Frislie
Jeff Weikert, a 50 year-old who will stop at nothing, came to Colorado from Wapello, Iowa to test himself for the 1st time, against the 2nd oldest race in the country and absolutely the tallest obstacle in his life. Pikes Peak at 14,110ft and 156 turns over a 12.42 mile road at an average 7% incline, is a formidable challenge for anyone! Diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease just 3 years ago in 2009, Jeff is faced with many new challenges in life but he will not give up so easily. Pikes Peak was one of those challenges that he decided to take on in order to show other people with Parkinson’s that you could still live and to help bring awareness to the disease.
What is Parkinson’s Disease?
Parkinson’s disease is a chronic, degenerative neurological disorder that affects one in 100 people over age 60. While the average age at onset is 60, people have been diagnosed as young as 18. There is no objective test, or biomarker, for Parkinson’s disease, so the rate of misdiagnosis can be relatively high, especially when the diagnosis is made by a non-specialist. Estimates of the number of people living with the disease therefore vary, but recent research indicates that at least one million people in the United States, and more than five million worldwide, have Parkinson’s disease.
Today, we understand Parkinson’s disease to be a disorder of the central nervous system that results from the loss of cells in various parts of the brain, including a region called the substantia nigra. The substantia nigra cells produce dopamine, a chemical messenger responsible for transmitting signals within the brain that allow for coordination of movement. Loss of dopamine causes neurons to fire without normal control, leaving patients less able to direct or control their movement. Parkinson’s disease is one of several diseases categorized by clinicians as movement disorders.
Parkinson’s has diminished Jeff’s ability to walk and has caused him to have tremors which you can see in his arms and hands, but when this resilient man gets on his vintage Honda 250cc Cheney-framed cycle sponsored by Payne’s Cycle Center of Rock Island, Ill., you can not see the effects of the Parkinson’s.
Jeff came to the 90th running of the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb in hopes of raising money for the Michael J. Fox Foundation and to raise awareness for Parkinson’s. He has been doing well with the fundraising but still needs help with donations.
It was a true pleasure to see the hunger in this mans eyes to make it to the top. The drive in him was amazing and his ability to ride was as well. Jeff has been racing for years but never up a mountain like this one. Watching him in the practice sessions made me think about my life as well. If we only had the same distinction to make things happen. Jeff is one of those people that is put in front of you to remind yourself to keep digging, keep trying.
I was fortunate to spend time with Jeff on the 3rd practice day at the start line. I watched him make a few runs up the road and then spend time walking around meeting and talking with other competitors. Jeff was having a great time and taking all that Pikes Peak has to offer a racer – new friends, awareness of Parkinson’s and why he was racing, camaraderie and respect. Respect for the other racers and new friends, but for the Mountain too.
Towards the end of the practice session there were problems with Jeff’s motorcycle, jetting issues with the old style push in jets. Jeff’s crew worked diligently to fix the problem but they were unable to make it run well enough to make it to the top. Sadly, Jeff had to drop out of the event and become another spectator for Sunday.
I hope this is not the last we see of Jeff Weikert! I pray that Jeff can fight off the destructiveness of this disease so he may return next year and make it to the top. You are a true inspiration to us all! Jeff, you exemplify My Life at Speed.