Man Diagnosed With Parkinson’s At 36 Challenges Himself To Climb Everest
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Alex Flynn was just 36 years old when a tremor in his finger first alerted him to what would later be diagnosed as Parkinson’s disease, but 13 years on he is still pushing himself to his limits and is planning on climbing Mount Everest.
Alex, who is now 49, has made headlines in the past with some of the extreme challenges he has taken on to raise money and awareness for Parkinson’s, including marathons, ultra-endurance races, triathlons, and even his own staircase.
In 2020, when the world shut down as a result of the coronavirus outbreak, adventurer Alex was determined to keep busy and decided to try and climb the height of Everest using his own stairs at home. After seven-and-a-half days and 220,000 steps, he had successfully climbed the equivalent height of the mountain not once, but twice.
Speaking to UNILAD about the challenge, Alex said that during the early days of the pandemic he’d seen people running marathons in their gardens, but that he hadn’t seen anyone doing a ‘vertical marathon’.
‘So I decided to do one,’ he said, adding, ‘I guess I was bored of lockdown and wanted to keep Parkinson’s in people’s minds.’
After successfully completing the vertical marathon, Alex decided to take his experience climbing the height of Everest and put it towards doing the real thing in April 2022, with the hope of defying both his own expectations and those of others.
Having crossed continents, jungle, desert and been to the Arctic, I was searching for the next challenge and thought why not Everest? It will certainly be a hard climb but I’m curious to see how far I can go beyond that which we think we are capable of.
If I achieve what I set out to do at 14 years post-diagnosis and probably living with Parkinson’s for more that 20 years, I think it will change minds about neurological disease and raise attention of and money to fund the creation of better treatments.
Prior to his diagnosis in 2008, Alex described himself as being ‘fitter than a butcher’s dog’, recalling how he would ride his bike 50 miles every day and run three half-marathons a week, as well as ‘the occasional marathon on the weekend’.
He didn’t question his health until he picked up a cup of coffee at work one morning and noticed that his little finger was shaking ‘ever so slightly’, though even then he thought he was simply ‘overdoing it with the exercise’.
Alex decided to seek medical help when the issue persisted, and after numerous tests, a neurologist told Alex he had Parkinson’s disease. In response, the 36-year-old’s initial reaction was ‘to tell him to f*ck off’.
Remembering the day his life changed, Alex said, ‘When the official diagnosis was made, I was numb. I remember thinking, why me? How will this impact my family? What does my future hold for me now? I also wondered why I was thanking the man who had told me that I have a disease with currently no cure. I don’t remember driving home.’
Over the years, Parkinson’s disease has cost Alex ‘many things’, including his career as a lawyer, his marriage, and simply being able to do tasks other people wouldn’t think twice about.
He recalls being in interviews for jobs and seeing people question the way his hand would flap around, as if thinking, ‘Does he have a drink problem, drug problem? What’s wrong with this guy?’ Though he stressed his Parkinson’s would not prevent him from achieving his goals, he found that he would ‘rarely hear back’ from employers.
In spite of the negatives, though, Alex is also thankful for the positive ways his diagnosis has impacted his life, for example the way it ‘cemented [his] desire to maintain fitness and movement’. In turn, this has led to a ‘journey of adventure’ that has taken Alex around the world and allowed him to raise awareness and funds for Parkinson’s disease.
The first challenge Alex took on after his diagnosis was the 2009 Marathon des Sables; a 150-mile foot race across the Sahara desert in Morocco, North Africa. Taking place just one year after he learned of his Parkinson’s, he had doubts about whether he could be successful, but he ‘eventually decided to give it a go’.
On the third day of the race, Alex passed out on the starting line, with officials expressing belief he was dehydrated. In reality, he was suffering a heart infection that wasn’t discovered until he was put on an IV.
After running with 14 kilos on his back, Alex noted he should have been ‘dead’, but miraculously he lived to tell the tale and take on many more challenges.
Less than a month after his North African ordeal, Alex was having tea with a friend and discussing his hopes to raise £1 million for Parkinson’s by running one million metres (621.3 miles). Considering Alex is no stranger to running long distances, the friend responded to say one million metres wasn’t actually that far, so the adventurer immediately upped his challenge to 10 times as much, completed through various races.
The conversation led to the beginning of 10MillionMetres; a challenge that saw Alex run 160 miles across the Bavarian Alps in 52 hours, run from London to Rome via Brussels and Paris with a stress fractured right tibia, travel 3,256 miles across the USA using four different disciplines, run across the Amazon jungle and take on an ultramarathon in the Sahara.
The challenge continued until he finally completed the 10 millionth metre in January 2014, but Alex evidently did not stop there and went on to have more adventures in ‘over 30 countries and on six different continents’.
The 49-year-old told UNILAD his motivation for the challenges comes from his passion to raise awareness for the disease, noting that in 2016 a boy who was just two years old was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.
He commented, ‘God knows what that kid will go through and it makes me more determined, to do everything in my power and with every opportunity I have, to raise funds for Parkinson’s research so that people with neurological disease and in particular Parkinson’s can one day say that they used to have Parkinson’s.’
Alex also finds inspiration from his sons, who he ‘loves with all [his] heart’ and who he wants to show that their dad ‘doesn’t quit or give up trying to make a better life for millions across the world’.
In order to train for his Everest climb, Alex is ending 2021 by taking on three other mountains: Mt Blanc in September; Mt Mera Peak in October, and Mt Himlung in November, as well as engaging in talks to use a high-altitude chamber and planning to build a tyre drag to compliment hill climbs he will take on while wearing a 10kg weight vest.
Through his numerous challenges, Alex has raised more than $530,000 for Parkinson’s disease, and he is hopeful that taking on Everest will help increase the figure. In order to take on the mountain, Alex is also in need of sponsorship to cover the costs of the feat, with people able to donate towards his challenge on his GoFundMe page.
As well as raising money, Alex hopes his Everest challenge will prove that ‘diagnosis is no barrier to being able to achieve your goals and dreams’.
He explained that people with neurological disease ‘lose a little part of themselves’ every day, and over time ‘this leads to a lack of confidence and a loss of self worth’. By taking on Everest, then, Alex wants to show that ‘whether or not you have neurological disease, we can all be extraordinary’.
If you’ve been affected by any of these issues and want to speak to someone in confidence, contact Parkinson’s UK helpline on 0808 800 0303.
Topics: Featured, Features, Now, Parkinson's Disease