Richard, Wendy, Lisa and Becky Tigner with Michael J. Fox (center)
Throughout her life, Wendy Tigner of Santa Rosa, California, has loved tennis. Five years ago, she was diagnosed with young-onset Parkinson’s disease (YOPD) at age 46. One of her first questions to her neurologist was, “Do you know anyone else like me?”
In fact, he did. He connected Wendy with Alyssa Johnson, a runner with YOPD. Since her diagnosis, Alyssa had continued to run, completing several marathons for Team Fox.
The two women became friends and soon started “Gals with YOPD,” a private Facebook group for women like them, whose membership now spans the country. Wendy says, “This group has been so helpful for me, especially as it took me a while to share my PD with others. We can chat about our experiences online and have even met in person.”
While close friends and family knew of Wendy’s Parkinson’s early on, it was several years before she was ready to go public. She recalls advice Michael J. Fox once gave: “He said, ‘Do it in your own time. You define PD in your life.’ I’ve tried to let that philosophy guide me,” she says.
When Wendy was ready, she shared her diagnosis with millions — on primetime TV. Her husband, Rick Tigner, is the president of Kendall-Jackson Wine Estates. In January 2012, he was featured in the reality TV show “Undercover Boss.” During the episode, both Rick and Wendy talk openly about her PD.
Rick says, “I was nervous every day of the filming. But Wendy really knocked it out of the park.” Wendy says the greater challenge came after the show aired. “People were worried and would ask how I was. While I appreciate their concern, I don’t view PD as an end. And I’m not letting it bring me down.”
In 2011, the Tigners began to take action through Team Fox. Inspired by Wendy’s love of tennis, they decided to host a tennis tournament and dinner in October. Their initial goal was to raise $10,000 for The Michael J. Fox Foundation. Knowing the Brin Wojcicki Challenge would match every dollar, they were eager to raise as much as they could. Wendy says, “I was amazed how my community surrounded me. Everyone wanted to help.” They sold out the event and raised over $65,000 for Parkinson’s research — doubled to more than $130,000 by the Challenge.
Already thinking about their next Team Fox event, the Tigners soon found a unique opportunity. In 2011, Rick had taken part in a celebrity golf classic and gala, hosted by the University of California San Francisco Medical Center and benefitting two charities. For 2012, Rick had been asked to help chair the event. He said he would, but only if The Michael J. Fox Foundation would be one of the charities to benefit from the event.
They agreed, so the Tigners got to work again. Rick was impressed by the collaboration that took place. He says, “It was really one team and one dream, and we hope to do it again next year.” The event raised over $150,000 for MJFF, all of which would be doubled by the Challenge.
Now, they say, “We’re figuring out how we can raise $1 million as a couple.” Rick and Wendy appreciate the single-minded focus of MJFF. “We do this to find a cure,” Rick says. “And we know any funds we raise for the Foundation will go straight to that purpose.”
The Tigners have gotten involved in other members’ events, making donations from Kendall-Jackson Wineries. Rick says, “Team Fox is an amazing network of people, and we’re grateful to do our part. We only wish we could do more.”
The Tigners’ three children are involved with Team Fox, too. Their oldest daughter, Lisa, plans to run the ING New York City Marathon in 2013 as a Team Fox member. “When I was first diagnosed,” says Wendy, “our kids didn’t know much about Parkinson’s and that it progresses over time. But now, they really understand the need to support the search for a cure — and that they can do something.”
Says MJFF’s Co-Founder and Executive Vice Chairman Debi Brooks, “The Tigner family has thrown their energy and resources into helping speed a cure, and they’re inspiring others to get involved. The Foundation is truly grateful to have them as a partner in our mission.”
Wendy says, “Rick has always been a great public speaker. But through Team Fox, I’ve learned to share my story with people, too. It’s been such an enriching experience for me. No matter what your age or situation, it’s important to keep growing and challenging yourself.”