Push Up. Push Through. A Story of Perseverance.

As a little kid growing up in the Bronx, I remember my Grandfather Jack had a condition that made his handshake.  Although we knew he had Parkinson’s Disease, not much was said. He led a good life as a postal worker and had a good retirement with family. His wife Myra was his rock and part-time caregiver. Jack eventually passed away quietly from old age, and then Myra followed quickly from a broken heart. Our family is small as Jack and Myra had one child, Keith, my father, which is the reason for this beautiful blessing called Push Ups 4 Parkinson’s.

Keith married his forever honey Arleen in 1964 and gave birth to their only child, me. We stayed in the Bronx until 1970 and did what so many did, bought a house with a white picket fence in the “burbs”. We moved to Suffern NY, and Dad began the daily grind of commuting to Manhattan for his longtime employer, American Express, where he had an amazing career as a  respected leader. Eventually, he accepted a job transfer and agreed to move to Greensboro, NC to help run the AMEX Service Center. He loved life, I remember the words “I feel like I’m on vacation” come out of his mouth routinely.  Life was normal and life was good!

Fast forward to 2002, I remember sitting in bed next to my wife Rachel and speaking to my parents on the “home phone”, when they advised us that “Dad has Parkinson’s Disease”. GASP. Silence.

The questions started, what does this mean, what are the symptoms, what is the prognosis, what happens next? And the journey begins.

Keith and Arleen had a strong marriage and they were ready to take on this unknown challenge together. I can remember their spirits were high as they intended to move forward and push through the situation with grace and a positive attitude, just as they did through so many other situations. At first, the Parkinson’s symptoms were minimal, no shaking, no tremors. The main issue was dragging of the feet/shuffling, and lack of arm swing. As time passed the next fairly common and unusual symptom was the handwriting change (it gets much smaller). PD hits people vastly differently, which is one of its challenges. With my Dad, you wouldn’t notice Parkinson’s until many years later. As his symptoms worsened and got more noticeable, depression began to kick in, which is also common. Although one option is to pull the bed sheets over your head and stay there, that’s really not an option. We must press forward and push up!

Mom and Dad got involved with Parkinson’s support groups in Greensboro, and Dad even led the Greensboro chapter for quite some time, as he enjoyed public speaking and finding guest speakers to engage the group and bring value to the community. He became “one of them”. My father was a stand out leader in business and in his community, and he was becoming noticed. And now, so was his Parkinson’s. He wanted to be involved less and less.

As the years passed and medicines became many, symptoms became more apparent, depression gained steam, gait and balance was off, he became more reclusive. After much thought and debate, the next step in the journey was the car keys had to go, which brought a major loss of independence, further depression and isolation. More and more started falling onto mom’s plate, as someone had to pick up the slack, and mom did it willingly, in “true companion” style (one of their favorite songs, by Marc Cohen). Like with many families, I was living many states away, in Iowa, for my work with Midland Annuity.

Keep pushing.

As Dad’s balance continued to deteriorate, the home they lived in for 30 years started to become unsafe, which brings us to an extremely hard next chapter….Moving Dad out of the house. How are we going to pull that off? Mom was dealing with this by herself, mentally and physically and I don’t know how she held it together, but she did. She made me proud and at peace knowing how good she was doing for Dad. However, she wasn’t doing too good for herself. The Caregiver role can be your worst nightmare and gets too little credit (which we intend to fix, but that is a story for a bit later). We spoke on the phone often and I knew this couldn’t work from where I lived. I needed to be with Mom and Dad. My company graciously let me move back to NC to be close to my parents when they needed me most! Thank you Cindy Reed!

Within two weeks of moving back, it was time to move Dad into assisted living. The dementia with Dad’s Parkinson’s caused the need for memory care as the suggested plan of care. The problem was, he was still smart and had his wits, so he knew what was going on. He knew he was going to live away from his wife of 50 years. Wow. Tough pill to swallow. But this was a tough man, I never realized how tough my parents really were!  (Later blog will discuss how to survive and thrive through long-term care.)

As I watched my parents pushing through their situation with grace and a positive attitude like two warriors going into battle, they inspired me every single day, without knowing it, and without even trying. I watched their strength, their hope, their strong marriage, their selfless attitude and I felt the need to somehow inspire them back. But how?

Often accused of being a “simpleton”, on June 23, 2015, I came up with the simple idea of challenging myself to 100 push-ups every single day for the rest of my life, with the goal being one million. As I posted progress on social media daily, many friends and family members noticed and support the effort. I started noticing how the physical and mental commitment of daily push-ups was helping me cope with the stress, get stronger, and channel this into something positive while making my Dad and Mom very happy. They both helped keep me on track, always asking me if I was current and if I got my 100 in today. They kept on pushing and were encouraging me to keep pushing.  We all kept pushing!

Exactly two years later, on June 23, 2017, Keith’s Parkinson’s journey ended at the young age of 74.  After living and learning through their journey, I knew with certainty that great work could be, and needed to be done to help others. With some quick math from my son Jonah, we realized that if I continued this push-up movement every day until that same age of 74, I would reach 1,000,000 push-ups,,, which is when the real epiphany happened!  “If I can do one million push-ups, and I will, then we should be able to get the rest of the world to do 100 million! And while we’re at it, let’s raise 100 million dollars. A global Pushups 4 Parkinson’s challenge! Why not? To keep it simple for people to participate, let’s just ask people to do 10 pushups, donate $10, and tell 10 friends!”

We thought this would be a catchy way to spread awareness while challenging, engaging and inspiring people to improve their health and have some fun, and anyone could participate in some manner! After consulting with my extensive network of smart friends, colleagues and supporters, they all wholeheartedly agreed. An executive board was formed, The Cutler Foundation 501(C)3 non-profit was established, and the official 10.10.10 push-up challenge was born.

Today we are asking YOU to accept the 10.10.10. Push-ups 4 Parkinson’s challenge: Do 10 pushups on social, tag/challenge 10 friends, and give 10 dollars here.

As we push forward with our challenge, we stand beside you in your personal challenge. Working with partners across the globe, our mission is to provide funding for research and the cure, resources to educate and enrich the lives of caregivers and people living with Parkinson’s.

Please accept the 10.10.10 challenge and make a difference today! Thank you!


PD Warrior