“Incurable, progressive, neurodegenerative. Hearing those three words felt like being punched,” recalls Duane Glader. “When you’re down, you have two options: fight or give in.” He chose the former.
Duane has always been up for a challenge. When he turned 50, he summitted Mount Rainier, which marked the beginning of a series of thrill-seeking adventures around the world. He went on an ATV trip in the Rockies, climbed glaciers in Alaska, canoed the boundary waters between Minnesota and Canada and even hiked to the base camp of Mount Everest.
During the Mount Everest hike, he knew “something wasn’t right.” In March 2018 he learned he has Parkinson’s disease. “When I was first diagnosed, I worried that I was going to be walker-bound in a year,” he says.
Duane turned to the internet to do some research and ended up at The Michael J. Fox Foundation (MJFF) website. He discovered Team Fox — MJFF’s grassroots fundraising program — and came across a hike up Mount Kilimanjaro to raise money for research. In December 2018, he convinced his brother-in-law Bob to join Team Fox and “just go for it.”
For the next seven months, he focused on preparing for Kilimanjaro. “Talk about motivation. It gave me a purpose to get in shape but also helped me deal with my Parkinson’s. I learned to understand it and my limitations,” says Duane. With alternating workouts at Rock Steady Boxing and his local gym, “I’m in the best shape I’ve been in my adult life. It’s had a tremendous impact on my Parkinson’s,” he says.
The other mountain to conquer was raising $10,000. “Fundraising is code for ‘your community getting mobilized to support you.’ I don’t recall ever asking anyone for anything, they just did it. My friends, coworkers, family, did everything,” he says. But first, Duane had to be open about his diagnosis. “I decided early on that I was going to be transparent. It was the best thing I possibly could’ve done because it opened the door to this extraordinary journey,” he says.
He was shocked and humbled by the response. His family and friends coordinated a CrossFit WOD (workout of the day) in California, his daughter hosted a cycling event in Illinois and earlier this month they organized a benefit concert by a Pittsburgh band, Commonheart. Even a bass fishing outing became a fundraising opportunity. Duane’s brother Dale said, “Let’s make this interesting,” and offered to donate $10 for every fish they caught. Between Duane, Dale and a friend, they caught 149 bass. To date, Duane and Bob, their family and friends have raised over $17,000 (and counting!) for Team Fox.
“This experience taught me that giving people the opportunity to help and support is part of this whole journey,” he says. On Mount Kilimanjaro, Duane found that support from the other hikers and guides. And to them, he was a source of inspiration. “I was the only with Parkinson’s on the hike, but everyone had a loved one with PD. I became a symbol for them for the person in their lives with Parkinson’s. I was fighting for them as well,” he says.
He describes the intense physical and mental challenge of the hike, as well as the cultural experiences he’ll never forget. On the final ascent to the top, which begins at midnight in 0 degrees, “Our guide started singing this beautiful song in Swahili. Soon other teams on the mountain are all singing this song in the middle of this surreal setting. I believed I could do it,” he says.
But with a frozen camelback and winds hammering him from every direction, “I got fatigued, my Parkinson’s began forcing me to lean back and lose my balance,” he says. “I could feel someone putting a hand on my back to keep me pushing forward.” He considered quitting but “the team gathered around me and they just wouldn’t have it,” he says.
While Duane did make it to the summit, he advises others considering hiking with Team Fox to look beyond that. “It’s way more than getting to the top,” he says. “This was the first climb I’ve done that was for a cause. That brings a whole different element. I had a community of people that donated, supported and encouraged me. I was doing it for them.”