When I met Jimmy Choi at the Second Annual Parkinson's Circle of Care Alliance Event, I couldn't help but notice how much his hands tremored as he huddled close to all the people he took pictures with.
And he took pictures with anyone who asked.
Far from being a rock star / actor with a price for autographs and pictures, which can get costly for some "stars" and other known quantities (for instance, at Aliencon, pictures went up to about $150 with the 2 main stars together), Jimmy was hanging out in the hall introducing himself to fellow Parkinson's warriors like you and me before his presentation. Between discussions on legal advice and a talk by Dr. Stephen Gollomp, Jimmy and his wife Cheryl were talking to fellow Parkies like they were old friends bumping into one another at the Appleby's. He was even the one initiating the conversation!
And people, younger and older loved it. We felt a part of something like the sea of hands raised up during an earlier presentation when asked, "Who has these symptoms?"
Is this how an American Ninja Warrior really is when he's not beating nearly half the field in how far he gets in the competition? Yes. A man who has run American Ninja Warrior in 2017 and 2018 with those same shaking hands seeming so stable as he flies through the air with the greatest of ease is just like me or you or any of us, even if he's an outlier.
But when you listen to Jimmy, he really is just like us. Some days Parkinson's get him, too. He talks about the nightmare fall he took with his son in his arms (his son was unhurt, though Jimmy knew he had to change into the new him). He talks about hesitance to do things like sign up for American Ninja Warrior or even get out of bed.
Except something in him or outside of him just does. Maybe it's his daughter asking him what his excuse is for not applying to American Ninja Warrior in 2016 after Allison Topperwein, another person with Parkinson's, competed on the show. Maybe it's marathon training. Then again, maybe it's not a trip back to 240 pounds and a cane. Maybe it's the fact that, by nature, he's an affable, athletic, and funny guy, a leader and inspiration, but still someone you'd share appetizers with at the aforementioned Appleby's while talking about life.
When we meet our heroes, we have this elevated ideal of who they are and what they do. After all, this is a guy who Michael J. Fox sends messages of inspiration to. This is a guy who does push-ups with 100 pounds of metal plates in a backpack.
But when he talks about how people see him as some exceptional level of competitor that they can't be since they have a nasty condition, he opens the door to let them all in on the secret. While nobody should have to join the Parkinson's club, they can all get active and beat the rigidity to some degree. After all, he's not our only athlete, which is evidenced from the presence of Rock Steady Boxing's athletes and all of us who do things to stay motivated, no matter how slow or unsteady. It's also evidenced by other runners and athletes along the way, too.
This is just the message that I need. In my own life, I find myself shaking a 2 month void of feeling like Parkinson's finally caught up to me. The mantras and the pushing back, the shaking off problems, the worry about the future, and all the responsibilities as well as the lack of responsibility; suddenly all of these things combined into a perfect storm. I needed to see someone who was just like me making it work because I no longer was (though I'm coming back to me again).
I'm glad I met Jimmy that day. I'm thankful for the opportunity to take a picture with him and my wife in the same image.
I'm glad that my mom could just go over to him and talk about appreciating who and what he is. I'm glad that his talk inspired my dad, who was also there to support me in this Parkinson's journey. It's not easy to watch your children go through this.
Then again, it's not easy to see anyone go through this, so seeing someone who seems to be winning the fight is a necessity.
But here's the thing: you and I are just like Jimmy in that we have something that sucks, but we fight back against it. Some of us are just like Cheryl in that we have someone we love, who we support, who is going through this storm, too. Others of us are just like his children, growing up inside the storm and learning to fight it off to become a beacon of hope for all.
What a run!
In the end, the real victory that Jimmy is fighting for is hope. He's prouder of raising $250,000 for medical research and tests than he is of his run. Getting medicines and treatments ready for medical testing is paramount, and his words of encouragement for that are incredible.
If you're interested in taking part in a study, see HERE.
In the end, we're pretty much the same. We're not one size fits all. We're good people with a bad lot in life. We're fighting back. As we do, we're making connections to one another. Hopefully, someday we can all hang out and do appetizers at an Appleby's somewhere.