Stories from the Front: Taking one step at a time – a volunteer’s perspective

On May 18, 2010, Alice Templin set out on the hike of a lifetime, the 800-kilometre Camino de Santiago de Compostela in Spain. It’s a daunting challenge for most people, never mind someone whose walking is “not normal, not natural.”

Alice, 61, has Parkinson’s disease, the second most common brain disorder in Canada. It affects over 100,000 Canadians. Apart from her gait, Alice’s most visible symptoms are tremor in her right hand and slow movement.

The cognitive effects are less obvious. “Sometimes I can’t find the word I’m looking for or I don’t explain things succinctly or accurately,” says Alice. “I find I have to use a lot of words to convey what I’m thinking.”

Diagnosed with Parkinson’s, in 2000, just as she was transitioning into a new career as an English as a Second Language instructor, Alice says, “From my previous work as a physiotherapist, I knew what some of the end-stages of Parkinson’s might look like, so I focused, instead, on one step at a time. Then and now, I have chosen to focus on where I am and what I can do.” Walk the Camino, for instance, with her hiking buddy, Claire Veenstra. The duo decided to make the walk a fundraiser in aid of the thousands of Canadians unable to walk the distance. With support from family and friends, Alice and Claire crossed the finish line on June 25, 2010 and raised over $13,000 for Parkinson Society Ottawa programs and services.

“Adding the fundraising element made it a richer experience,” says Alice. “There was a sense of journeying with each other; a sense that we’re not alone in whatever we want to do or in what challenges we face.”

After 10 years of living with Parkinson’s, Alice says, “It hasn’t been as scary as I thought it might be. I’m one of the fortunate ones where the progression has been slow.”

Alice Templin (l.) and Claire Veenstra

This Parkinson’s support group member and dedicated Parkinson Society Ottawa volunteer says, “Thanks to research, we’re already a lot better at managing Parkinson’s. I do live in hope that we’re going to find a cure.”

Read more Stories from the Front on Parkinson Society Canada’s website.