Man diagnosed with Parkinson's disease starts outdoor recreation program for the disabled
Belfast — When Dan Avener was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease some three years ago, he was “pretty depressed.” Then he decided he should meet some other people in the same situation so he went to a support group in Camden. He met some wonderful people and he joined an exercise program.
“Now, I feel a lot better about dealing with the disease… Getting out is a lot better than sitting in the house feeling bad for myself. I didn’t think I was a support group person but it changed my life so much for the better,” he says.
And so did the exercise group as he watched people with Parkinson’s start to move better. In fact, he was so impressed with the results, that Avener is now starting an outdoor recreation program in Belfast for people with disabilities. He hopes to start it in May by meeting at the Boathouse, at the foot of Commercial Street in Belfast, and going for a walk on the new path along the waterfront.
“I think a lot of people who receive a depressing diagnosis stay in their homes and feel sorry for themselves. It’s better to meet other people, especially other people in a similar situation, and get more engaged in life, and getting exercise is a lot of it,” Avener says.
“I want this to be open to anyone with a disability, including obesity or troubles with mobility caused by age. I would encourage people to come with their caregiver, too. People can use their wheelchairs, walkers or a cane on the waterfront path,” he adds. “I just want to get people outside and moving and go from there.”
And he hopes the outdoor exercise program will grow from there, perhaps becoming a nature walk for those with that knowledge and interest, or a photo walk for those who enjoy photography. Or maybe, some of those who take part in the initial walks will realize they want to do more and will decide to go on a hike together or start running together, all based on their physical condition.
Avener’s idea for an outdoor recreation program is based in part on his experiences with the new Parkinson’s Disease and Movement Disorders Support Group that has formed at Waldo County General Hospital and meets the second Tuesday of each month. He realized that his exercise program has really helped with his Parkinson’s.
Avener started running some 21 years ago, long before his Parkinson’s diagnosis, when Dale Nealey, the high school track coach, handed him an application for the first ever Pancake 5K. Realizing it was August and that the event was set for October, Avener decided he was going to start training and participate. After the race, he said he would never do anything like that again but then 15 minutes later, he made plans to run in a Brewer race in late November. He was hooked. Avener has run in every Pancake 5K since and this year will be the 21st anniversary of the race.
Avener’s current exercise schedule includes running several miles three days a week with his friend, training partner and physical therapist, Kerri Holt. Another day he runs with Holt's sister Kristin. Last year Holt and Avener ran their first marathon together.
Three days a week Avener works out on the stationary bike at the YMCA and also does strength work there. Every day, he does yoga and the exercises he was given by a physical therapist.
Avener is convinced that his exercise regime is why he is doing so well physically but he is still affected by the disease. “Running is easier for me than tying my shoes. I have trouble with fine motor skills. And when I read a paragraph, when I’m finished, what I read is gone. I have difficulty with concentration and my attention span has been impacted.” He says Parkinson’s affects everyone differently.
But no matter how an individual is affected, Avener says exercise helps and he hopes many of those who have disabilities and don’t get out will join him on Thursdays starting in May, probably around 3 p.m., for a pleasant walk and an opportunity to be with others in similar situations.
Avener urges anyone who wants to participate to check with their doctor to make sure the walk is right for them and to watch the papers and websites for definitive information about the time and place for the walks.
“I don’t want people sitting on the couch at home alone if they can get out, get some fresh air, make friends and get some exercise. I’ll start it and then let it grow,” he concludes.
Avener’s first walk has been set for Thursday, May 8. Meet at the Boathouse at the foot of Commercial Street at 3 p.m. He hopes to continue the program through the summer, meeting every Thursday at 3 p.m. For more information, call Dan Avener at 338-5675.