Parkinson’s Patients Tackle 208-mile Blue Ridge Relay to Benefit MJFF

12-patient Team Synapse aims to conquer road race, raise $100K

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by Mary Chapman |

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A dozen runners who live with Parkinson’s disease (PD) hope to heighten awareness of the neurodegenerative disorder and raise funds for research by taking on one of the nation’s most demanding relay road races — the Blue Ridge Relay — on Sept. 9-10.

The 12 runners, who’ve dubbed themselves Team Synapse, have set a fundraising goal of $100,000 — all of which they intend to donate to the  Michael J. Fox Foundation (MJFF) for Parkinson’s research. As of this publication, the team had raised $18,403.

“We are honored to have Team Synapse focus on inspiration, awareness, and fundraising to support research to find a cure,” Liz Diemer, vice president of community fundraising for MJFF’s Team Fox, said in a press release issued by the nonprofit organization, Uncorked Adventures, that put together the running team.

“The team is giving so much of themselves physically and emotionally to support the [Fox] foundation’s efforts to find a cure for Parkinson’s,” Diemer added.

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Raising awareness, research funding

The nonstop Blue Ridge Relay, launched in 2003, covers 208 miles, beginning in Virginia and ending in the scenic Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina.

Team Synapse was organized by Uncorked Adventures, which seeks to help Parkinson’s patients have better lives while supporting efforts to find a cure for the progressive disease. In addition to raising funds and awareness, the team hopes to inspire others with physical challenges to safely push beyond limitations.

“Putting together a team of 12 runners, all living with [Parkinson’s disease], to take on this grueling endeavor is truly unprecedented,” said Bill Bucklew, who leads Uncorked Adventures. “We combed our network of dedicated and relentless athletes, tapping into their inspirational missions. We feel like we have assembled a ‘dream team.’”

Despite their physical limitations, the runners comprising Team Synapse will have just 35 hours to complete the road race. To do so, they must average a 10-minute-mile pace to reach race time limits, according to Uncorked.

During the event, the participants will ascend 17,000 feet.

Each runner will tackle three of 36 race segments, which each average six miles. Thus, every participant will run about 18 miles. To stay within the time limit, team members must carefully manage the minutes it takes for them to hydrate, eat, sleep, and rest, according to Uncorked.

The team members, all of whom live in the U.S., hail from a variety of backgrounds. There’s an American Ninja Warrior, for example, as well as a pilot and a chef.

Bucklew is one of the runners. Also on the team are Rhonda Foulds, Joe Drake, Peter Leech, Christopher Lion, Renee Trent, Jacqui Sukie, Scott Fernandez, Jared Koch, Janet Vickers, Greg O’Keefe, Jason Kopacz, and Steven Eury. The alternate is Allison Toepperwein.

“This relay team is such a great metaphor for life, showing how we can all accomplish so much more working together. It’s also so important for people living with neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s to exercise regularly,” Bucklew said. “We hope to raise significant research funds towards finding a cure, while inspiring people to stay active.”

The team’s name derives from the junction between two nerve cells that permit them to communicate — called a synapse. In Parkinson’s, by fortifying synapses, that communication gap can be closed.

Similarly, the team’s name indicates the runners’ hope to raise funds to help close the chasm between fundraising and finding a Parkinson’s cure.

“The demand for better treatments and a cure is increasingly critical. While there’s no cure for Parkinson’s, research suggests that exercise is one of best things for your mind and body,” Bucklew said. “The stage is set for an epic endeavor, and we can’t wait to conquer for the Blue Ridge Relay.”

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