It started as a seemingly innocuous finger twitch.About seven years ago, Alex Flynn noticed the involuntary movement while picking up his morning coffee. Because he was currently training for the Marathon Des Sables – a 155-mile course across the Sahara Dessert – he and his family just assumed the tremor was a result of over-exertion.
“I went home and talked to my wife,” Flynn said. “She said ‘You’ve overdone it, haven’t you?’ and I thought ‘Of course, I’ll step back a bit.’ But it continued coming back again and again.”
Flynn decided to get medical help. With all of the injuries Flynn had sustained over the years, his doctor hypothesized that the spasms were due to nerve damage. He went to several doctors before a diagnosis was confirmed.
Flynn has early onset Idiopathic Parkinson’s Disease.
“It’s like being hit in the face,” Flynn said. “It knocked me for six. I was in a dark place for a few months. Then, I woke up one day and I realized that I’ve got two young boys – three now – and a young wife. What’s the point of me moping about it? I just finally got angry enough to do something about it.”
Flynn has resolved to help make progress not only in his own life but in the field of Parkinson’s research. He took on an initiative called 10 Million Meters through which he hoped to raise $1.3 million. When he reached his goal of traversing 10 million meters across the globe in January 2014, his effort along with those who inspired it raised $500,000.
Since 2008, Flynn has been devoted to encouraging others to stay strong through adversity. He attends conventions and enjoys speaking at events.
Most recently, Flynn attended his first Rock Steady Boxing class at Battenberg’s Black Belt Academy in Kingwood Thursday, Sept. 17.
Rock Steady Boxing is a nationwide program in which people with Parkinson’s come together for physical activities and boxing exercises. The program serves as a support group and focuses on exercises that target muscles affected by Parkinson’s.
Flynn’s experiences provided inspiration to the rest of the Rock Steady class. This may have been his first time attending, but he says it will not be his last. Finding support groups and helping to support others is very important to Flynn, who struggled to make sense of his disease.
“People at the Parkinson’s conferences say ‘I’m not going to have a pity party,’ but I think it’s important to actually respect the fact that you are – it’s going to hit you hard,” Flynn said. “With cancer, it’s an absolutely horrific disease, but there are support networks. There are counselors available immediately in hospitals. When you’re diagnosed with cancer, there’s somebody there to explain why and what the steps are; to explain what facilities and support (that) is available to you as a patient, as a sufferer, and as a person. That’s what we’re talking about – we’re not talking about patients, we’re talking about people.
Flynn explained that generally, people consider Parkinson’s to only affect the elderly. As a sufferer of early-onset Parkinson’s, Flynn wants to purge that misconception and inform people that anyone from their teens to old age can get Parkinson’s.
“With Parkinson’s, there isn’t that (support as readily) available because fundamentally, it’s looked on as an old persons’ disease,” Flynn said. “But we’re getting better at diagnosing it and more people who are younger are getting diagnosed. It has to be understood that Parkinson’s isn’t just one strain; there are many different types of Parkinson’s, some more aggressive than others.”
Before his diagnosis, Flynn was athletic and participated in marathons. Now, Flynn participates for a cause that can determine the quality of his life and the lives of millions of other people worldwide suffering from Parkinson’s.
For all the aggression with which Parkinson’s attacks, Flynn pushes himself that much harder.
“I’ve raced in some of the planet’s most interesting and dangerous places,” Flynn said. “That included 150 miles across the Bavarian Alps; I went from London to Rome, 400 miles with a busted leg; I became the first person in 2012 to traverse 3,256 miles across America in 35 days using four different disciplines; I ran the Amazon Jungle, the Dolomites, and the Colorado Rockies.”
The experiences he has had along the way have helped him put his disease into perspective.
While racing in the Sahara, Flynn began experiencing complications from a heart infection he did not know he had. He only barely made it to a medic van before collapsing. The medics misdiagnosed him with dehydration. When Flynn awoke, he decided to continue running.
After a while, Flynn made the horrifying realization that he was lost. He looked around for course markers and saw nothing but sand, mountains and camel grass.
“There was nobody,” Flynn said. “I had a liter and a half of water. If I didn’t get myself out of the situation, it would become a matter of life and death. It’s probably the scariest thing I’ve ever encountered and I’ve encountered quite a few things since racing around the planet.”
Eventually, a tribesman approached him and led him back to the course. However, Flynn was taken out of the race to receive medical attention for his heart.
This did not conclude Flynn’s racing adventures. Since then, he has participated in dozens of running, cycling, kayaking, and climbing marathons through many harsh environments and rough terrains. He has braved Amazon snakes and insects, rapids, waist-deep mud holes, flash floods, and even wild boars, all in the name of finding a cure for Parkinson’s.
“Never ever give up (the fight against Parkinson’s),” Flynn said. “There is so much research going on right now. There are just phenomenal steps being taken. In the next ten years, we’re going to see medicine people couldn’t even imagine exists. There are new treatments in the pipeline. We know so much more about Parkinson’s now than when I was first diagnosed. There is a lot to be positive about. So many foundations and institutes are doing research in relation to biomarkers and genetics and gene therapy. This is not just isolated in one country; this is a global team effort because we all need to come together, share information and share knowledge. The more we communicate, the better off we are.”
Flynn is still working towards his goal of raising $1.3 million to benefit the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research and the Cure Parkinson’s Trust. He is seeking sponsors for his next great feat – the Great Pacific Race – which is scheduled for next summer.
At the conclusion of the Rock Steady Boxing class, members bonded over refreshments and sandwiches donated by Firehouse Subs, as they soaked up encouragement from Flynn’s adventures in the face of Parkinson’s disease. Jeff and Renee Battenberg hope their Rock Steady Boxing class will continue to reach and help others suffering from Parkinson’s.
To find out how to help Alex Flynn reach his goal of $1.3 million dollars, visit https://www.alexflynn.co.uk/.For more information about Rock Steady Boxing and other programs offered by Battenberg’s Black Belt Academy, visit www.rocksteadyboxinghouston.com.
“Let No Situation Diminish Your Light!”