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Barbara fights Parkinson's symptoms with Cycling

posted Aug 17, 2014, 12:23 PM by Dianne James
When Barbara Wheatley was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in December 2011, she knew she was in a for a fight, but she was ready to do battle.

Anyone who regularly drives Thorp Cemetery Road is sure to have seen Wheatley and her friend Lynn Weisenfels riding a four-wheel, dual seat, yellow bicycle. Wheatley’s friend Adele Muratore describes it as “really something.” Unlike a tandem bicycle with one seat in front of the other, the seats of Wheatley’s bike are side by side. The bike is equipped with a small motor, so if the riders get tired they can use the motor to power through the rest of the ride.

Riding the bike has helped Wheatley reverse many of her Parkinson’s symptoms. To raise awareness of Parkinson’s and the importance of exercise, Wheatley and Muratore will ride the bike in the Ellensburg Labor Day parade. Weisenfels will be walking in the parade, and Muratore’s daughter and a friend will ride a tandem bicycle. The group will be wearing t-shirts emblazoned with “Peddling for Parkinson’s,” a play on pedaling their bikes and peddling their message.

“The only thing that really helps is exercise,” Wheatley said. “Exercise is the silver bullet.”

Getting moving

Wheatley had never ridden a bike before, but when her doctor gave a presentation on biking to relieve Parkinson’s symptoms, Wheatley decided to give it a try. While exercising can’t stop the progression of Parkinson’s, studies completed at the University of Washington suggest that Parkinson’s patients who exercise have improved balance, energy, stamina, cognitive function, self-esteem and peace of mind.

“She’s worked really hard to stay on top of it,” Weisenfels said. “Exercising helps with her well-being.”

Wheatley and Weisenfels, who have been friends for 35 years, started riding together on a stationary dual-seat bicycle Wheatley purchased in Yakima. Wheatley upgraded to her current bike when her granddaughter who lives in Montana suggested purchasing a custom bike from Lightfoot Cycles Inc. in Darby, Mont.

Wheatley and Weisenfels ride the custom bike three or four times a week for about 20 minutes at a time, which Wheatley said has been enough to benefit her immensely. Weisenfels rides in the “command seat” which gives him control of the brakes and steering, and Wheatley rides beside him. The pair rides the bike primarily on Cemetery Road, but when they want a challenge, they enjoy riding it through the pasture of Wheatley’s ranch.

“(Riding) is really fun. I’ve always hiked a lot, and it’s great to get out in the air and breathe,” Wheatley said. “In October my doctor said I had made a 53 percent improvement, and he said he never gets to say that.”

For years, Wheatley has loved sculpting, but Parkinson’s made her hands jump, which made sculpting impossible. Since she’s been riding, Wheatley said her symptoms have been in control enough to begin sculpting again. Her latest sculpture is of a bride and groom, and will be a wedding present for Muratore’s daughter.

Wheatley said her improvement from riding the bike has helped her stay independent, and made her happier overall. Her advice for fellow Parkinson’s patients is simple.

“You can get off your butt,” Wheatley said. “You have to do everything you can to keep moving.”