2,185 miles for Parkinson’s
• Barbara Lawlor
It’s a long and winding road, but well worth the effort.
For the past few years Josh Lederach has been recognized as the former Nederland High School student and basketball player who came back to coach first the boys’ team with Herm Weaver, and then the girls’ team as head coach. He has been loved and respected for his work with the teams.
In the winter Lederach typically works at Eldora Mountain Resort and in the summer he is an Outward Bound instructor at Yosemite National Park. He is young, athletic, great-looking, funny and optimistic on the outside, but under that cheerful demeanor, he is a man with a serious mission; an athlete with a hard, long road ahead of him, all for the best cause he knows.
Last Thursday, April 4, Lederach left his home in Rollinsville to head for the Appalachian Trailhead outside of Atlanta, Georgia. It was raining hard on Friday, but he hefted his huge backpack and took off, the first step of a 2,185-mile journey, which he hopes to finish in 60 days, setting a new record.
The walk is about much more than an athletic feat; it is primarily a fundraiser for the Davis Phinney Foundation. Phinney was diagnosed with young-onset Parkinson’s Disease at the age of 40. Davis, his wife Connie Carpenter and their son Tyler have been Olympian bikers. The foundation provides hopes for a cure but also finds ways to help people live well with a progressive and chronic disease through exercise.
Lederach’s reason for embarking on the Appalachian Trail is also intensely personal. His mother, Wendy, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s five years ago and this is Lederach’s way of honoring her courageous struggle to keep on going and to raise money for the foundation that has supported her with ideas and information.
Over the past five years Lederach has made learning about Parkinson’s a priority. He learned that he won’t understand how the symptoms feel, the exhaustion, the side effects of the drugs. He learned that the disease is a roller coaster of ups and downs. “Some weeks are filled with energy and activity from 8 to 8, and then there are weeks, seemingly spurred on by nothing, were everyday is filled with shakiness, exhaustion and it’s hard to do more than a couple hours of activity. In other words, this disease is unpredictable.”
He was impressed by the fact that exercise seemed to increase the number of good days and exercise became the impetus for his monumental Appalachian Challenge. It started when his friend Josh Garrison became obsessed with attempting a thru-hike with ‘large mile days.’ A thru-hike means walking 35 to 40 miles per day for a sustained period. Lederach figures it will be 50-60 miles. Garrison decided to join Lederach and the two men made it their goal to finish under 60 days, unsupported.
They will not hitch-hike into towns, nobody will have a shelter waiting at the end of the day, and they will carry their own food until they arrive at a town for more supplies or receive a pre-planned mail drop that they sent to themselves ahead of time.
They learned that a successful trip depended on their mental motivation and raising money for the Davis Phinney Foundation by having people pledge a per-mile-hiked amount. A penny a mile would amount to $21.86; a nickel a mile would be $109.30; a dime would be $218.59; a quarter would be $546.48; a half dollar would be $1093,000; and a dollar a mile would be $2,185.90. Those prices are based on the walkers making it to the end.
Lederach said that he is challenging his mom to make exercise a priority every day while he is walking the AT. “My hope is that we can help each other, that on the days I feel terrible, my feet hurt, body aches and I want to stop walking, I’ll find inspiration in the fact that my mom is at home fighting through fatigue and shakiness in order to exercise that day, and when she is feeling tired and shaky, she’ll find inspiration in the fact that I am out there walking through pain and fatigue, hopefully knowing this will help us to keep going.”
Lederach was inspired by a thought that cyclist Taylor Phinney made about one of his most challenging rides. Taylor said, “I knew that if my dad could be in my shoes for one day — if all he had to do was struggle on a bike for six hours, but be healthy and fully functional — he would be me on that day in a heartbeat. Every time I wanted to quit, every time I wanted to cry, I just thought about that.”
When Lederach wants to quit, when his feet hurt and his body aches, he will be thinking of his mom, Wendy, working through her pain.
Checks may be made out to the Davis Phinney Foundation and mailed to Lederach’s address at P.O. Box 219, Rollinsville, CO, 80474.
As of Monday, the Lederach and Garrison have been on the trail for three days, averaging about 33 miles per day and although they have had to ice their ankles at night and a bear drooling on Garrison’s sleeping bag in the middle of the night, they are in good spirits. They crossed into North Carolina on Monday.
You can follow Lederach’s journey diary at http://www.trailjournals.com/joshlederach/.