One exercise class a week wasn’t enough to keep me moving. I’d tried every non-Parkinson’s class I could find near my home and concluded that the teachers might be excellent but adapting their programs to a Parkinson’s body was a struggle. So my next venture was to join the stretching-aerobics-etc. classes run by Kim Brooks for the foundation chapter in several locations around town.
Kim and Lucy not only understood what we couldn’t do; they knew how to challenge us without endangering us. Kim devised finger exercises to maintain brainpower, laughing exercises to enhance our facial expression, memory exercises and tongue exercises, as well as the usual stretches and aerobic activities. She, like Lucy, has that charismatic energy that keeps us trying even though our capacities are declining as we toil to maintain them.
Each of my three classes — choir, dance and exercise — has subtly knit its participants into a group, a mutually supportive group. In Lucy’s dance class, we have even waltzed in celebration of the wedding of two members.
Eventually several classmates convinced me to try Jon Berns’s High Aerobics class in Bethesda. It’s a challenging routine of aerobics and weight training, with lots of equipment to climb and swing and throw. Unlike my other classes, it includes no music and not much laughter, just the satisfaction of having challenged my body, and a finale that became the exercise highlight of my week. This involved Jon and his assistant holding me under the arms while I ran as fast as I could across the room. Safe from falling, I could speed, I could race, I could fly! I had never expected to feel the wind in my hair again. It was my weekly moment of physical freedom.
Logistics intervened, however. The class location was beyond my driving comfort, so eventually I stopped going.
Down to three classes a week, I’d like to report that I enthusiastically attend every one, but the most I can say is that I’m always glad to be there once I arrive. Even now, reluctance is habitual to me and I almost need to be pushed out the door. I credit my steady attendance to having found a buddy who picks me up on her way to classes. We keep each other on schedule.
We don’t exercise to grow stronger or faster; we do it to try to hold our own, to keep moving. Singing is the exception. For me it’s been a tale of progress. Parkinson’s didn’t make it possible for me to carry a tune. It created a situation in which I could practice and observe and gradually learn that I could carry a tune.
The ability to sing. The opportunity to fly. The company of a new best buddy. Those are accomplishments of my Parkinson’s classes. So what if I can’t touch my toes? It’s enough to make me believe in silver linings.
Richman received a Parkinson’s diagnosis in 1999. She was the Post’s restaurant critic from 1976 to 2000.