John Ball was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease when he was 39.
Parkinson’s is an incurable, progressive neurodegenerative disease of the nervous system that ultimately robs people of their ability to move, talk and swallow. Given the prognosis of the disease, a friend suggested Ball relax and find a comfortable, peaceful way to live out his life.
“I didn’t like that,” said Ball, who’s now 72. “I went home and put on my running shoes. Turns out it was probably the best thing I could do for myself.”
After running in his first marathon, he wrote about the experience in an article for the National Parkinson’s Foundation Journal. The positive response led John to meetings with patient and advocacy groups, giving him his first exposure to a large community of people battling the same disease and issues. He realized there was much to learn from that community. Eventually he started volunteering with the Parkinson’s Action Network, which merged with Michael J. Fox Foundation in 2016, and becoming a patient advocate for Americans for Cures.
Thinking about all the other people with Parkinson’s who’ve felt forced to withdraw from society and daily activities because of the disease motivated Ball to push himself beyond his own expectations and take control of what he could in his life.
He started running marathons at 51. During the ensuing two decades, he ran 25 marathons and two half-marathons. John has now completed the L.A. Marathon 16 times and 30 other Parkinson’s patients have joined him through the years. For the last three years, he has run the L.A. Marathon’s two-person relay, completing 13.1 miles each race.
“I’m privileged to be in this position, 35 years after diagnosis, to still be able to run and spend what remains of my life helping people. Most people who have received the same diagnosis as me would be in a wheelchair or passed on by now.”
Marathon running has led the Whittier, California resident down many unexpected paths late in life. He’s become a widely respected author, coach, lobbyist, fundraiser and advocate for stem cell research, which many in the Parkinson’s community believe will lead to a cure for the disease. “If you’ve been recently diagnosed with Parkinson’s, congratulations, because you will probably live long enough to see a cure.”
To help get us there faster, John plans to continue fundraising, advocating for these promising therapies, and, of course, running for as long as he is able.
“It would be my ultimate goal to leave earth knowing I had a hand in actually stopping the progression of Parkinson’s,” John says. “You can’t make a difference if you don’t show up.”