In San Francisco last weekend I spent some time with John Ball. John is a mid-60s runner who once ran a 4:18 mile, a fairly good time, even for running snobs. In 1983, John was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. He decided he wanted to fight back the best he could and not let PD run his life. Living Well, Running Hard is his story.
First and foremost, I was happy to read that John had been a fairly decent runner. I feel that the semi-fast in the running world are looked over. We pay a great deal of attention (deservedly) to the elites. Also, when it comes to human-interest stories it is hard to beat an once overweight person who has battled back to regain control of their life or the person who is dealing with their own personal strife from the loss of a loved one. But focusing on the two ends of the spectrum leave many of those who are fairly fast and have interesting stories out in the cold. John’s book touches on that subset of the running population.
I would not call this a running book, per se. In fact, it is the stories about his many marathons since dealing with PD that were the slowest moving pieces for me. It was reading about how PD had crept into his life and effected John in a complex manner (his wife’s estranged mother had PD and wondering how that will affect his marriage was a good part of the book) that was most compelling to me.
An obviously gifted and intelligent man, it was interesting to see the different jobs John has had with his PD and how he retook his pilot’s license after giving up flying for decades. Seeing how he could overcome so many physical obstacles as his body would attempt to betray was definitely an inspiring sidestory.
As all athletes age we must deal with the inevitable slowing down. John dealt with that, and muscles spasms and jerky motions in his arms and legs at an exceedingly early age. He touches on how some major figures in recent history (Michael J. Fox and Muhammed Ali’s daughter) have made it more acceptable to have PD, which has made his own battle easier. Meanwhile, his intimate affiliation with Team Parkinson allows him to first-hand see how so many runners with PD can train and run complete marathons all over the country.