“I get by with a little help from my friends,” Dan Steele sings the tune with perfect pitch and vibrato in front of a trivia night crowd.
A moment earlier he had taken to the microphone to say “If you’re wondering why I’m shaking, it’s because I have a neurological disease called Parkinson’s. If someone you know has Parkinson’s and you want to know more about it, come see me!”
This is just one example of Dan’s ongoing commitment to educating others about Parkinson’s because he believes that improving the lives of Canadians living with Parkinson’s starts with spreading awareness and education about it. Dan, an avid volunteer with Parkinson Canada, always takes the initiative to engage others in conversations about Parkinson’s, often sporting Parkinson Canada swag, putting himself out there in moments like trivia night and leading the Maritimes’ Pedaling for Parkinson’s fundraising event.
Pedaling with Parkinson’s
Prior to his Parkinson’s diagnosis, Dan and his friends were planning a cross-country cycling trip. With the news of his diagnosis, Dan didn’t know if his dream trip would be possible. Through the encouragement of his friends and family, Dan decided to stay the course and pedal from British Colombia back to his home in Prince Edward Island (PEI). In that seven-week haul, Dan discovered that cycling was the activity that would help him manage his Parkinson’s.
People often ask, “Can someone with Parkinson’s ride a bike?” Many of the more well-known symptoms of Parkinson’s like balance issues and tremors make this question commonplace among people who are not educated about Parkinson’s.
“Everyone with Parkinson’s has a different set of symptoms,” says Dan. “Only some people will have balance issues or weakness in different parts of their body. There are many people with Parkinson’s who will be able to ride a normal upright bike for the remainder of their lives. However, people who develop balance issues can still enjoy cycling by using different kinds of bikes.”
As Parkinson’s symptoms begin to compound, there are ways to adjust your cycling abilities. You can ride:
- An upright bike or trike
- A recumbent bike or trike
- A recumbent or upright e-bike or e-trike
- A Trishaw
Dan has been repairing and selling bikes to build up his growing fleet of bikes and trikes so he can lend them to people within the Parkinson’s community to encourage them to discover a love for cycling, too. He says connecting with local bike shops like MacQueen’s Bike Shop in Charlottetown will help people find their own starting point.
“MacQueen’s has been a tremendous help in finding bike parts,” says Dan.
Pedaling for Parkinson’s
As the lead volunteer for Pedaling with Parkinson’s in the Maritimes, Dan sees the pedaling event as all-inclusive. There are so many options when it comes to cycling that truly anyone can participate.
“We are trying to engage everyone with Parkinson’s with this event”, says Dan. “Whether they have balance issues or not.”
Pedaling for Parkinson’s is helping seniors to discover cycling as an activity for their wellness, uniting friends and families and providing memory-making opportunities for children, parents, grandparents and everyone in between all while raising awareness of Parkinson’s Disease.
There wasn’t always a Pedaling For Parkinson’s event in PEI. Members of Dan’s Early Onset Support Group talked about the pedaling event that had taken place in Ontario, and with the 270km long Confederation Trail in their backyards, they said to each other, “Wouldn’t it be great to do something like that here?”
Dan stepped into the role of lead volunteer as he had recently received his DBS surgery and with it, a recommitment to supporting people living with Parkinson’s. When Dan talks about stepping back into volunteer work he always mentions the incredible people motivating him to continue spreading awareness and education about Parkinson’s.
People like Steve Iseman – one of the individuals that brought the idea of a PEI pedaling event into the support group conversation, and who is currently on a cross-country cycle of his own.
And Bruce Macpherson, one of the friends who had joined Dan on his cross-country cycling trip. Dan says, “Bruce completed his trip in five weeks, but he could have done it in even less!” Bruce now sits as a fellow event committee member alongside Dan.
Lastly, his friend Harry Hariharan – who discovered a newfound sense of mobility in cycling with Dan’s help – Dan says is one of the biggest reasons he committed himself to cycling all those years ago.
These are just a few of many names Dan offers with ease when asked about cycling and what Pedaling for Parkinson’s means to him.
“This isn’t just my story,” says Dan. “It’s our community’s story and I want the right message shared. That’s why I’m here.”
Dan is trying to reach those in the Parkinson’s community experiencing the harsh realities of Parkinson’s. The ones who are struggling. He wants them to know that the community sees them, and even when living well seems so far out of the question, there are ways to live better.
Dan is a reminder that new experiences can come at any age and he encourages everyone from young children to the elderly to come out a try a pedaling event.
“Can’t make it? Check out some of these videos to learn more about all the cycling options for people living with Parkinson’s,” says Dan.
Pedaling into 2022
In its inaugural year, the event raised over $30,000 and about 100 participants.
The goal for this year? To raise $50,000 in donations and attract at least 200 participants. Both a challenge and a realistic goal, given the support the event received last year! The support groups, volunteer resource center, Brookvale ski patrol (where Dan spent 13 years volunteering before his diagnosis), and his family and friends were all on board in supporting and participating in the inaugural event. “And now they’re coming out again this year,” Dan says.
Learn more about Pedaling for Parkinson’s, read more stories like Dan’s, and learn how easy it is to set up an event in your area with the support of Parkinson’s Canada.