Pedal pals push back at Parkinson’s disease

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Hillary Gavan/Beloit Daily News (From left): Michael Kasper, George Vestal (shown in back) and Ed Skwarlo are shown in the Pedaling for Parkinson’s cycling class at the Roscoe branch of the Stateline Family YMCA on Wednesday morning. Research has shown high speed bicycle pedaling slows disease symptoms. The class is a great social support for participants and a lot of fun.

ROSCOE — With April being Parkinson's disease awareness month, those at Pedaling for Parkinsons cycling class are sharing the benefits of the class and inviting others to partake.

The class meets three times a week — Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 11 a.m. to noon — at the Stateline Family YMCA Roscoe branch, 9901 Main St. There is no cost for members or nonmembers. For more information contact Ann Hankins at 608-365-2261.

“Exercise is important. The more you exercise, the better you feel and do. People who don't exercise at all can get very stiff,” Michael Kasper said.

“If you really work at it, you can notice the difference,” said Ed Skwarlo of South Beloit. “I've been working on it for five years, and my symptoms haven't increased. I think it's beneficial.”

Participants said the class not only offers camaraderie, pizza parties and lunch outings, but also slows disease progression. Research has shown a 35 percent reduction in symptoms when people bicycle, optimally 80-90 revolutions per minute. Because of the stability of a stationary bicycle, it can be an ideal exercise for those struggling with a loss of balance.

Parkinson's disease is a neurodegenerative brain disorder which can affect movement. Although it develops slowly, symptoms may include tremors or shaking, loss of balance or stiffness, although class participants Mary and Michael Kasper said its a “designer disease,” affecting everyone differently.

Although Parkinsons disease usually develops after age 60, 15 percent of those diagnosed are under age 50, according to information from the National Parkinson Foundation.

Mary Kasper explained how her husband Michael was diagnosed in 2009 and then started in the class. The disease began with Michael having stiffness and some shuffling of his feet. However, on Wednesday, one wouldnt know hes struggled while atop the bike. He, like the other participants, are fierce pedalers, listening to oldies tunes to some recent tunes selected by instructor Jennifer Lemke.

Skwarlo said he does ski walking with walking poles when not cycling and also exercises his mind with the Grinnell Hall Senior Centers theater group. Some of the other class members are in a boxing class designed for those with Parkinsons through another organization and/or do other forms of exercise most days to keep symptoms at bay.

Skwarlo said he noticed symptoms of Parkinsons five or six years ago when he got a tremor in the right hand, balance problems and increased stiffness. Although he had to quit running because of balance issues, he soars on the bike.

For an incentive, class participants track miles with some of them reaching milestones by distance such as Route 66 or Hawaii.

Although Skwarlo was confused about what the disease entailed when first diagnosed, he now sees it as a challenge.

“God doesn't make junk. You have to be an example to other people and not give up and call it quits. Actually, it can be a challenge,” Skwarlo said.

George Vestal, 75, was diagnosed 23 years ago and is cycling as well as boxing. He said he comes for the fellowship. Fellow classmates say he is the jokester of the class, and can lift an exercise bike.

The group also has social aspects like pizza parties, lunches at Sophias and the sharing of the latest information on Parkinsons disease such as medication and diet.

Most recently the group is voting on quotes for a commemorative brick to be placed at the new YMCA in downtown Beloit. On Monday the group was planning a tulip drop at Kinnikinnick Creek.

Instructor Lemke said the class brightens everyones day. Everyone likes to tease each other while getting in a good workout. Recently, interest in the class is growing as more people are coming to get information about it and join.

“The classes are full,” she said.

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