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The Power of Riding with Parkinson's Disease

posted Aug 7, 2014, 1:26 PM by Dianne James
Just a few days before he was set to ride across Iowa on his bicycle, Mike Fahning was having, as he succinctly put it, “a bad Parkinson’s week.”

The tremors, the lack of sleep and the stress were catching up with him.

“And that’s how I found myself pulled over by three Edina [Minn.] police officers who were worried I was having a seizure,” he said. “It was just that kind of week.

Three days later, he rode a bus from Guttenberg to Rock Valley and slept virtually the entire way. And then he got on his bike and began pedaling across his home state in the Register’s Annual Bike Great Ride Across Iowa.

“On Monday night, the people I was with looked at me and said they didn’t even recognize me from a couple of days before. ‘You’re symptom-free, Mike,’ they kept saying. That’s the power of exercise when it comes to Parkinson’s.”

It has indeed been a long and winding road for Mike Fahning, a 1982 New Hampton High School graduate who may not have beaten Parkinson’s Disease but has found a way to live a full and rich life with a disease that has been a part of his life for the past dozen years.

He was diagnosed in 2002 after he came down with eye tremors that he first thought were just a side effect of Lasik surgery.

For the first nine years, he said his Parkinson’s was “just more of a nuisance than anything,” but by 2011, he knew he had to make changes in his life.

He’d fall asleep during the day because of narcolepsy. He couldn’t sleep at night because of insomnia. His life was full of stress, which tends to aggravates Parkinson’s. He loved his job as a chief financial officer for a car-dealership group, but he knew he had to get out.

A decision he had made years ago — to not let a long-term disability policy lapse — proved to be golden.

“I had decided I didn’t need it, and I had a financial planner who kept bugging me,” he said with a laugh. “She told me, ‘Mike, this is a mistake. Mike, you shouldn’t do this,’” he said, “and she called every week for 90 days and I decided to listen to her. A couple of months later, I was diagnosed. And in 2011, I knew she was right.”

He retired and decided to work part-time as a consultant and tackle his Parkinson’s head on.

“I got rid of the stress and began living the life I wanted to live,” he said, “and it’s made the world of difference.”

TALK TO MIKE Fahning for a few moments, and there’s a good chance you’ll get a few goose bumps during the conversation.

“You have a couple of choices to make when you get diagnosed,” he said. “You can sit in a corner and feel sorry for yourself or you can take it on.”

He’s taken it on.

Ask him about dealing with the chronic, progress neurological disease and he has a one-word answer — exercise.

“It’s mandatory for us with Parkinson’s,” he said. “That’s it. No questions. No nothing. You have to stay active.”

He now lives in Eden Prairie, Minn., and takes advantage of the Twin Cities’ extensive bike trail system.

“Part of the deal is that stress really affects you,” he said, “and one of the best cures for stress is exercise.”

For the complete story see the 8/1/2014 New Hampton Tribune.