“If I can do it, anybody can do it.”
For an actor who took us through space and time to go back to the future on the silver screen, it’s fitting that he’s now guiding us toward the future with a race toward a cure for Parkinson’s disease.
Since 2000, the Michael J. Fox Foundation has funded more than $750 million for Parkinson’s research. Fox, the acclaimed television and film actor, announced he had the neurological movement disorder in 1991.
But as every great actor and athlete knows, there’s always another finish line on the horizon.
For Jimmy Choi, who has been living Parkinson’s since he was 27, that horizon seemed like it was getting farther and farther away — and, for a while, like it might never ever come. He admits he was in denial for nearly 10 years after his diagnosis, to the point he needed to walk with a cane.
Today, he is an ultra-athlete who has competed in 100 half marathons, 15 full marathons, and countless 5K and 10K runs — all on behalf of the Fox Foundation as part of its Team Fox initiative, a grassroots fundraising community. Choi and his family also host the Team Fox event Shake It Off each year in Bolingbrook, Illinois.
“I had been battling bouts of depression the first eight years,” Choi says. “But when I fell down the stairs carrying my son, I decided to do something. I realized I still have time. All of the clinical trials I looked into had one common theme: physical activity. I started with walking, then jogging, then running, and just kept going.”
In total, Choi has raised more than $240,000 for Parkinson’s research. And he recently competed on NBC’s “American Ninja Warrior.”
He’s one of an estimated 5 million people worldwide with Parkinson’s disease, according to the Fox Foundation. While the average age at onset is 60, some people are diagnosed at 40 or younger. There is currently no cure, and the day-to-day symptoms from the disease can significantly interfere with a person’s life, family, and work activities.
As challenging as the physical symptoms can be, one of the most difficult aspects for Choi was opening up about his diagnosis to family and friends. A former captain of the high school football team, he had gained weight and had become isolated in his grief.
Becoming active again became his saving grace, but he knows how challenging it can be to get started. His advice for anyone stuck in a similar spot now — with or without Parkinson’s?
“If you can’t take that first step on your own, get someone to help,” he says. “Find a partner to walk with. Get your mind off the pain and discomfort.”
That community-minded spirit is what drove the creation of Team Fox in 2006, says the team’s director, Stephanie Paddock, who is herself a Team Fox athlete and has a personal connection to Parkinson’s disease.
“People were hosting athletic events and sending us a check,” she says. “We built this program with resources as a response to them … there’s no limit to what Team Fox athletes can do.”
Thousands of passionate athlete fundraisers around the world have collectively raised more than $65 million in support of the Fox Foundation’s programs through Team Fox, and 100% of Team Fox proceeds go directly to the Fox Foundation’s high-impact programs to speed better treatments and find a cure for Parkinson’s.
As for Choi, he isn’t as focused on any single end goal as much as he is on the obstacle right in front of him.
“For anyone who’s scared, try to take that first step,” he says. “If you fall, you fall. But get up and keep going. If I can do it, anybody can do it.”
To learn more about Team Fox, visit teamfox.org.