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Sam Fox: From Running for a Cure to Working for a Cure for Parkinson's

Sam Fox: From Running for a Cure to Working for a Cure for Parkinson's

Readers of the Michael J. Fox Foundation blog and Facebook page may recognize the name Sam Fox. Sam recently ran the Pacific Crest Trail to raise funds and awareness for Parkinson’s disease research and to honor his mother, Lucy, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2000. We're excited to announce that Sam Fox has joined the Foundation full-time as an Engagement and Outreach Officer. In his own words, Sam shares what motivated him to run the Pacific Crest Trail and to join the Foundation.

I was introduced to Parkinson’s disease more than 10 years ago. The disease is an acquaintance I wish I didn’t have, as the introduction came in the form of my mother’s diagnosis. My parents told me, my brother, and my sister at the same time. I didn’t know what Parkinson’s was, but I could tell it was bad – my dad was looking sternly, straight ahead. My mom was crying.

For a long time my mom didn’t display any noticeable symptoms, and true to her constitution, she never complained. For me, a young teenager, it was easy to forget her diagnosis. Besides, I had plenty of other things to worry about – the daily struggle for clear skin, and whether all the girls at school thought I was too skinny. I was a typical selfish adolescent; my struggles were the most important, most difficult conflicts I could imagine. My mother’s illness and how it now influences my notions of invincibility, was beyond my mental and emotional reach at that age. Then, 3 years ago, I began to notice her Parkinson’s.

The signs were subtle. Her left arm would tremor, her daily walks were shorter, and she would lean more heavily on me when we hugged. For me it was as though her symptoms had showed up over-night. But maybe they had been there for years. Maybe I was just ready to see them.

Like I said before, my mom doesn’t complain. She may no longer race down snowy mountains on skis, but she still tends her garden all spring and summer, brews beer in the basement in the winter, and chases after her toddling grandchildren in between. As her symptoms progressed I was more and more impressed by her resolve. In the face of constant pain, discomfort, and worry for the future, she was active, determined, and quite simply, tough. She has been an inspiration to me my whole life, but now I could put a finger directly on the source. I wanted to help.  I wanted to make a difference in her life. Most of all, I wanted to understand what she dealt with.

I had to feel what she felt if I were ever going to understand what she was going through. So I started Run While You Can. After 10 months of training and preparation I ran the Pacific Crest Trail, from Canada to Mexico, through mountains, forests, and deserts along the way. For 61 straight days I ran an average of 43 rugged, rocky miles; more than 2,400 miles in total. My feet hurt, my legs hurt, I was dehydrated, I was moody, and my body was affected by such extreme exhaustion that I could barely feed myself with a spoon (I didn’t even attempt to tie my own shoes half the time). For those two months I had felt some of what People with Parkinson’s disease experience on a daily basis, and in the process, thanks to the support of my trail crew help from the rest of the Run While You Can team, raised over $150,000 dollars for the Michael J. Fox Foundation. I went to New York City and presented the check to Michael himself, met many of the hard-working people at the foundation, and then, it was over.

I was proud of what Run While You Can had accomplished and was confident that the money we raised would have an impact on the race toward a cure for Parkinson’s disease. But the race wasn’t won yet. The Michael J. Fox Foundation was still fighting, that day, now, and they will be until there is no more Parkinson’s. I had dedicated one year to this fight, but had realized the people at the Foundation were dedicating their lives. I wanted to be a part of that team, and as fate would have it, now I am.

The speaker at my high school graduation told me I could fix the world. For 7 years I struggled to prove him right but the world’s problems were too big and too many. Where would I begin? I’m not an inventor or a scientist, where would I make my impact? Finally, just last year, seeing my mother’s determination in the face of her illness helped everything snap into place for me. I simply needed to redefine my world. My mom, my family, Parkinson’s… this is my world. And I’m here to fix it.

I am honored to be working for the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research alongside so many incredible individuals. For my mother and the millions of others with Parkinson’s, I join in MJFF’s mission to find a cure for PD.

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