Commentary: Baby sis swims through Parkinson's struggles

Over the phone to New York City, I ask my sister, "How's swim team?"

"I went this morning," she answers, "and a substitute coach complimented me on my arm turnover. Really made me feel good."

Hiding the sudden lump in my throat, I say, "You're nuts. What's the temperature there?"

My baby sis, 10 years my junior, is on a competitive swim team whose members ride the subway at 5 a.m. on icy mornings to work out in barely heated pools. After years of successful meets, including a relay around Manhattan, her troublesome slowing became a diagnosis: Parkinson's disease.

So I cry, hearing that she succeeds on a cold winter day in a pool that she tells me later in the conversation feels refrigerated.

Then she adds, "Teddy's got me out running."

I too went out in weather today. At our daughter's, I ran from Manhattan Beach through Hermosa and Redondo to the end of the trail with Palos Verdes in view. Removing my rain jacket, which doesn't breathe, I was as wet under it as I would have been jacketless.

Running back home, I slowed while skirting the puddles, slowed even more on the slippery cement Strand, and spent nearly as much time completing 13 miles as I hope to spend finishing the whole 26.2-mile Los Angeles Marathon. Sloshing in wet shoes, I did not feel sorry for myself. I persevered through a warm rain to my daughter's house and a hot shower.


But nothing is easy for my sister. She has episodes where she cannot lift her feet from the ground. A new medication brings near normalcy, but its effects are transitory.

Yet, she makes me laugh.

"Your coach's compliment is outstanding!" I tell her.

She responds, "I tell Teddy, it's hard being fabulous."

Then she says, "You know I'm doping. Maybe that's the reason for my swimming success."

"What are you taking?"

"Oh, a dopamine combination, Lepadova and some other 'dova.' One of my doctors said it wouldn't help swimming and another said it might. But I used to have a great butterfly stroke, and now I can't do it at all."

Parkinson's is a thief, stealing neurological connections etched over a lifetime.

"I never know what I'll wake up with," my sister once told me.

In my own workout up to the L.A. Marathon, I have the feeling that what I put into it will equal race-day performance. Buckets of rain in L.A. (2000), 90-degree heat in Chicago (2010), nausea in Long Beach (2013) were nothing compared to discovering that a body part no longer functions.

In previous articles, I've written about physical rewards for endurance athletes. Thinking of my sister persevering through ice and snow to jump in a cold pool, I can only conjure up the mental reward: Triumph. In today's workout my sister won, not Parkinson's.

Newport Beach resident CARRIE LUGER SLAYBACK is training to run the Los Angeles Marathon at age 70. Read more about her adventures at

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