Watching The Masters, Thinking About Parkinson’s

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Crocuses are a sure sign that Spring is on the way in Canada. Golf can’t be far behind. Photo Credit: The PD Gardener (Stan Marshall) 2019

Kicking Back and Watching the 2019 Masters

Glued to my Chair

On April 14, 2019 I was glued to my chair in our family room watching Tiger Woods win his fifth Masters’ golf title and his 15th career victory in a “Major.” I certainly wasn’t alone as 18.3 million viewers joined me at the peak coverage time. According to Rob Schumacher of Golfweek USA Today Sports, a total of 37.2 million viewers worldwide watched either the live coverage or the replay. To put that into perspective the estimated total population of Canada in 2019 is 37.4 million.

These statistics do not tell a lie. There was tremendous interest in the final round of the Masters because Tiger had an excellent chance to win and a chance to repair many of the divots on his reputation. After all, 11 long years had passed since Tiger’s last victory in a major tournament – the U.S. Open in 2008 – and 19 years since he last won the Masters’ title. Over the past decade both his golf game and his personal life appeared to have gone south. Golf analysts, fanatics and duffers alike were of the opinion that it was extremely unlikely Tiger would return to his past glory.

I confess that I have never been a fan of Tiger Woods although I had to admit grudgingly to his superiority during his peak years. His ability to turn on the icy calmness; to fashion golf shots that left others staring in awe; to command his body and mind to work in sublime synchronicity; and to track down victory when victory seemed to be doing all it could to avoid him, was simply awesome. In the end it doesn’t much matter to Tiger whether I am a fan or not. He knows that when people say “Tiger” they are talking about him and no one else.

Tiger Had No Doubts

As I watched this 2019 version of the Masters it occurred to me that Tiger never doubted that he would win another title and the concrete evidence of that confidence, of his perseverance, commitment, dedication, work ethic, and psychological toughness was the long list of worthy golfers whose names lay strewn on the leaderboard under, not over or equal to, but beneath his name and score. In spite of the odds against him, Tiger conducted a clinic on how to play high-pressure golf at a level and intensity few of us can even begin to imagine.

I am no sports psychologist so it is difficult for me to conceive of the psychological toolkit that Tiger had to assemble and master such that his body and mind not only shared the same space but that each knew its own place. Over the last, lost decade Tiger has had to surround himself with family, golf professionals, physicians and surgeons, physiotherapists, sports psychologists, career advisors, and business/financial advisors, among others who all would contribute positively to his ultimate goals. Even for someone with abundant financial resources building a team is more difficult than it first appears. I have tremendous respect for Tiger’s ability to put those pieces together effectively.

I doubt that Tiger “wished” or “hoped” that he would win another Masters title and I would be surprised if he ever thought of it as a “fantasy”. Tiger might have imagined his victory but imagining (or visioning) is a technique many athlete’s use so that their movements are automatic, with consistency in the results. It is not the same as fantasizing. In a way, it is like the building and maintenance of neuro-pathways in neuroplasticity exercises for PwP.

Tiger’s Victory Was Not A Surprise … To Tiger

Tiger’s victory at Augusta was the culmination of a purposeful and deliberate process. He knew what his goal was and he knew what he had to do to get there. In other words, you have to have a plan if you are to achieve what most people think is impossible. And of course, you have to have to execute the shots to implement the plan. He did just that.

Where Tiger Woods’ career will go now is unknown but I am certain he has a plan … and not just a wish, a hope or a fantasy.

Diet, Exercise, and Attitude

There are many people who feel that Persons with Parkinson’s (PwP) can overcome this debilitating disease, can delay the advance of its symptom’s and stop its progression to more advanced stages; that diet and exercise, especially intense exercise, are the keys to defeating Parkinson’s. While I think it is true that exercise and diet are important for us to live well when we have Parkinson’s, I know that diet and exercise does not cure Parkinson’s and at this stage we don’t have any evidence that poor diet and/or lack of exercise play any role whatsoever in causing Parkinson’s.

Yet there are many people who will point to Tiger’s success and say that he is an exemplar of the Power of Positive Thinking. Note: the following sentence is to be read as if it is dripping with sarcasm, to wit: “So all you PwP out there who are feeling sorry for yourselves because you have Parkinson’s, lose the negative attitude, stop being depressed and get with the program – knuckle down, buckle down, do it, do it, do it!”

Of course, it is silly to think that Parkinson’s is in any way analogous to professional golf when it comes to individual motivation. PwP are not in competition with other PwP although we may compare notes about the progression of the disease in our bodies to its progression in others; and we may set personal bests in terms of our activities, etc. No, we are in competition against a disease within our bodies; a neurological disease that causes our physiological system to misinterpret signals from our brain resulting in all sorts of strange and unanticipated muscle movements, juiced up with a wide variety of non – motor symptoms to add to the challenge. For PwP the world is a giant obstacle course through which we must use our mental faculties to maneuver our bodies. Our brain and/or body can become dysfunctional at any time, with only a moment’s notice. [Some might say jokingly that this describes their golf game!]

This may leave you wondering: Why should I care about what Tiger does?

Lessons From Tiger’s Success

Are there any lessons for PwP to be found in Tiger’s story? We could just say that it is not relevant and move on but I don’t think we should be quickly dismissive of the situation. Let’s take a closer look with a critical eye for lessons to be learned in a select number of items. These insights may not always be obvious but are worthy of our attention nonetheless. Consider the following:

Determination

Just as Tiger has done, we must develop a steely determination so as not to be fazed by the challenge no matter the odds. We will have many little victories along the way as well as some profoundly troubling and unexpected setbacks. We rejoice in the former and learn how to adjust from the latter.

Realism

We must be realistic about both the trajectory of our Parkinson’s and the end result. If we put our heads in the sand we will set ourselves up for disappointment and failure. Knowing where we are going and being able to make necessary and appropriate adjustments is a large part of the game. It was realistic for Tiger to think he could win another Masters. It is not realistic to think that I can cure Parkinson’s by strenuous exercise alone but it is realistic to think that exercise will improve my quality of life while living with Parkinson’s.

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Sometimes things are not as they seem. This is not a golf course. Photo credit: The PD Gardener (Stan Marshall) 2013

Team Building

Just as Tiger has built a strong and loyal team around him; people he trusts to provide him with the best advice; those with whom he can have honest, open discussion and debate; PwP need similar teams with family, friends, many different types of accredited health professionals, spiritual advisors, and people who know how to distract you from your immediate troubles so that you can relax.

Building an Ego

I am pretty sure that Tiger has a substantial ego. Most PwP I know do not. [I do not pass any judgment about myself on this matter.] Parkinson’s has a way of cutting you down to size very quickly and cruelly by inflicting upon you any number of indignities including incontinence and early dementia.

I have come to the realization that if we are to improve quality of life, we (PwP) must strengthen our ego at the level of the individual and develop a strong, sometimes obnoxious ‘collective ego.’  Parkinson’s is a 365+ days a year, 24 hours a day, and 7 days a week job. I hope you will forgive me for saying this but many times, it is all about me! I know it sounds ugly and conceited but PwP must embrace a more demanding and selfish approach. Meek and mild may win friends but if we don’t have an “edge” to make enough noise for our cause, our cause will go unheard, swallowed up in the din of others.

We must make enough noise to convince the following people to not just get on board with your plan but to adopt and modify the plan to ensure success:

  • Leaders who have power and influence within the Parkinson community;
  • Leaders who have money, technology and human resources at their disposal;
  • Government leaders with the capacity to fashion government policy, regulations and direction;
  • Corporate leaders who can apply the economic impetus for a concerted, cooperative and coordinated push for research in the interests of the common good instead of profit;
  • Leaders who are not afraid to step out of a market driven philosophy;
  • Leaders in community organizations and not-for-profit institutions who can maximize fundraising efforts and coordinate the allocation of scarce research dollars to those efforts that have the greatest potential for success;
  • Leaders who bridge these sectors and understand that international cooperation and coordination is superior to international competition when we are trying to find the cause, the cure and ways to enhance quality of life for PwP everywhere;

As PwP we should be demanding greater coordination and cooperation at several levels e.g., government/state, organizational/institutional. We should not be reduced to collective begging or issuing a meek plea for help in finding the cause and a cure for Parkinson’s.

Do you think Tiger grovels for much?

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Know What We Want

Sometimes we have to speak up about what we want and we have to be more selfish about it. Still we have to be realistic and that means we have to be judicious in our demands. We must be diligent in determining what it is we want; why we want it; when we want it; and be able to articulate this clearly. Sometimes we ask politely, sometimes with some urgency, and sometimes we must demand, insist, and threaten. Yes, threaten. Please understand that I am talking not only about personal needs and wants here. There are lots of those to be sure, but I am talking about larger or higher level demands e.g., at the community or societal levels. Corporate entities must not be permitted to avoid communal responsibilities and obligations simply because these do not fit with their marketing plans or with their profit profiles. Boycotts are sometimes effective collective actions in such cases.

Societal Importance and Awareness

Golf is an extremely popular sport or game and professional golf is a very lucrative career if you. have the talent and abilities to win or be close to the top. Tiger Woods’ victory at The Masters victory earned him a cool US$ 2.07 million from the purse alone and even the 9th place finishers (Jon Rahm, Patrick Cantlay and Rickie Fowler) pocketed US$ 310,500. As a recreational sport, golf is quite enjoyable no matter what your handicap and according to Forbes Magazine, golf was a US$ 70 billion industry in 2015.

I have to confess that I am a fan of young Canadian golfer Brooke Henderson who has taken the Ladies Professional Golf Association by storm these past two years. At age 21 she has 8 tournament victories to her credit. So it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that more people are aware of what is going on in the golf world than are aware of what is happening in the world of Parkinson’s disease and the long search for the cause(s) and a cure.

Awareness is one thing and importance is another. I would wager that professional golf is more important to Canadians or Americans than finding the cause (s) or cure for Parkinson’s.

Can We Change The Channel?

Earlier, I stated that 37.2 million viewers watched Tiger Woods and the final round of the 2019 Masters.  If one-tenth of that number (3,720,000) possessed more than a passing knowledge of Parkinson’s disease e.g., able to name two or more characteristics or symptoms not including tremour, I would be extremely happy. Is that target realistic? At the moment, I doubt it but if it is to be realistic target, we would need to make some changes or take some actions to change the channel?

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Changing the channel usually involves hard work and you may be tempted to look away

That is the challenge. Are you up for it? I shall explore this topic in future posts. Stay tuned.

Post Script

I leave you with one final thought for the day:

Parkinson’s is not a game. No one is going to choose “Person with Parkinson’s” over “golfer” as an occupation or lifestyle.

© The PD Gardener (Stan Marshall) 2019

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