Wednesday, April 30, 2003
Friant tackles illness head on
Parkinson's fails to sideline runner
By Shannon Russell
The Cincinnati Enquirer
After shedding 65 pounds, dumping a two-pack-a-day cigarette habit and reacquainting himself with exercise, Madeira resident Richie Friant embraced a life he'd never imagined.
Rich Friant will take part in the Flying Pig Marathon.
(Ernest Coleman photo)
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The old life had hit rock bottom by May 2000. Friant, who monitored a pocket TV as a security guard, recalled seeing a glimpse of a local televised marathon and thinking, "These people are crazy!"
Junk food in one hand and cigarette in the other, Friant became so riveted he couldn't change the channel. Not only were the Flying Pig Marathon runners gasping for breath and weaving toward the finish in exhaustion, but - this is the part Friant didn't get - they looked like they were having fun.
"All I kept thinking about was that Garth Brooks song, that 'I'm much too young to feel this damn old,' " said Friant, 43.
He checked out a couple of books on marathon running at the library, kicked his habits, joined a Jeff Galloway training group, ran the last two Pigs and considered his story a success.
But health problems began to nag him. Sitting in his recliner in the afternoon, Friant noticed his left hand begin to twitch. He shrugged it off as a muscle spasm from an old sports injury.
Soon his left leg began to shake. He chalked it up to surgery he'd had on his left knee.
When he couldn't relax at all - just weeks before he was to run the Marine Corps Marathon - Friant visited his doctor.
"Some people remember where they were when JFK was assassinated. Of course I was only 4 then, so I don't. But I'll never forget July 10 at 9:33 a.m.," Friant said.
That's when he was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease.
The central nervous system disorder is characterized by rigidity, tremors, slowness of movement, poor balance and walking problems. The disease affects 1 1/2 million people differently. Friant struggles with tremors, loss of coordination, and speech and breathing problems.
"I feel like my body is moving a million different ways all the time," Friant said. "I feel the symptoms seven days a week, 24 hours a day."
Though there is no cure for Parkinson's Disease, exercise and medication are the most effective remedies.
Suzelle Snowden, Galloway training program director, said a bystander wouldn't recognize anything unusual about Friant's post-diagnosis behavior.
"We notice sometimes he's a little more tired, but he never stops. He's the type of person who will stay away from the group when he feels symptoms, just because he doesn't want to make anyone uncomfortable," Snowden said.
Friant said his biggest challenges when running are concentrating and staying balanced.
Sometimes he finds two people running side by side in front of him and focuses on keeping his shoulders the distance between them. He also has run with one foot on blacktop and the other off the course so he doesn't "watch the scenery and wobble from side to side."
Friant has raised more than $1,000 for the Michael J. Fox Foundation, which is searching for a Parkinson's cure.
Sunday he'll run his third Pig.
"My No. 1 goal is to complete all 26 miles. Before my diagnosis, I was a determined person," Friant said. "But I'm even more determined now."
Flying Pig Marathon
When: Sunday, beginning at Paul Brown Stadium. Wheelchair event, 6:25 a.m.; marathon, 4-person relay and 2-person relay, 6:30 a.m.; 10K, 6:50 a.m.; victory party at Sawyer Point, 9 a.m.-2 p.m.
Registration and packet pickup: Health & Fitness Expo, noon-7 p.m. Friday and 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Saturday at the Albert B. Sabin Convention Center.
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