K977: how Leanne Owen uses cycling to raise awareness & find a cure for Parkinson’s
Parkinson’s Disease (PD) is a degenerative condition affecting the nervous system. Symptoms start when the brain can’t make enough dopamine to control movement properly and there are three main kinds: tremor (shaking), slowness of movement and rigidity (muscle stiffness). However, there are many other symptoms and PD manifests differently in each of the 7-10 million people living with it worldwide.
There has been medical research into the strange relationship between cycling and PD symptoms for some time. The amazing video below shows how a PD patient with advanced frozen gait can cycle perfectly, suggesting that the physical and neurological processes that allow us to balance whilst riding a bike are separate to those that help us to walk independently.
There’s lots of information online about medical research into the effects of cycling on PD symptoms – simply search ‘Parkinson’s cycling research’ for a reading list to get you started. Leanne’s amazing story, though, is a compelling account of one individual’s experience of living with PD and using cycling as a way to control symptoms and raise awareness at the same time as raising funds for research to find a cure.
Leanne was a watch manager in the West Yorkshire Fire & Rescue Service, making life-saving decisions at fires, road accidents and other emergencies until she was forced to retire due to PD symptoms in 2011 at the age of 42.
Leanne became heavily involved in Parkinson’s UK, raising funds through sponsored walks, events, a sky dive – and bike rides. Leanne rode London to Paris, the Humber 108 and her very own 477-mile tour of all the Parkinson’s Support Groups in Yorkshire and Humberside.
With her symptoms advancing, Leanne decided she had one last epic ride in her. Not one to make life easy for herself, she planned a 977-mile circuit round the UK visiting all of the regional Parkinson’s UK support groups. The aim is to raise £20,000 and wider awareness through social media and press coverage.
Over seven months of training Leanne got into the best shape of her life and felt the symptoms slowing as she clocked up thousands of miles. But there was the cruellest of twists in the tale.
Following a successful training trip to Mallorca, Leanne was riding near Doncaster when she spotted a pothole as she cornered in a tight country lane. The dappled shade meant that she didn’t see the gravel next to it, lost traction and fell hard, sustaining a serious head injury despite her helmet.
As Leanne says, there is no way of articulating what she felt when she understood the seriousness of her injuries: ‘There is no point in trying to communicate my disappointment, there are no words.’
But they’re made of strong stuff in Yorkshire. Leanne continues: ‘It’s been a tough few weeks but my time in the West Yorkshire Fire Service taught me to always have a plan B.’ The rest of the K977 Team will still complete the challenge between 28 June and 8 July and Leanne will ride in the support car. ‘Between us we still raise awareness and together we will reach our total of £20,000.’
Not only is Leanne adamant that her K977 Challenge will go ahead, she’s also targeting a return to the saddle. If her recovery goes well, she wants to ride Pedal for Parkinson’s unique two-day sportive in September, the BOXCAM200.
You can find out more about PD and the great work of Parkinson’s UK here and check out their fantastic series of fundraising rides on the Pedal for Parkinson’s website here (we’ll have a post about these soon).
You can also see Enzo Cilenti talking about BOXCAM200 here:
“The most exciting and best miles i’ve done on a bike in a very long time” @EnzoCilenti our Champion of Cycling shares his thoughts on #BOXCAM200. Fancy giving it a go? Sign up here: https://t.co/SoQeaFTz08 pic.twitter.com/XHsXzKFc4b
— Pedal for Parkinsons (@PedalParkinsons) May 3, 2018