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People fight Parkinson’s with dance, walks and yoga in spite of rain

An intrepid crowd of about 500 walked to Canalside and danced and did yoga at Coca-Cola Field in spite of the cold, drizzling rain as Parkinson Foundation volunteers got the word out that action helps fight the disease.

“Everybody showed up with their sweatshirts and their long pants and umbrellas and went ahead anyway,” said Carolyn Dowling, who did tai chi with her husband and son, who has the early-onset form of Parkinson’s.

“It was inspiring to see people that have disabilities coming out,” she said. “It got everybody up and going.”

Rainy weather seemed to keep big crowds away from Sunday’s fourth annual Moving Day event at Coca-Cola Field, but the stalwarts and newcomers who did show up gratified organizers.

“I thought we had an amazing turnout,” said Chris Jamele, executive director of National Parkinson Foundation of Western New York. “They didn’t allow the cold to keep them away.”

The events, which lasted several hours, started at about 8 a.m. and included a three-mile walk to the observation tower near the water beyond Canalside.

Moving Day is the foundation’s largest fundraiser of the year, with pledges collected in the months leading up to it.

Numbers were still being tallied, but by Sunday the foundation director estimated the proceeds were at least as good as last year’s $73,000 total. The funds pay for local programming.

“We can collect pledges for the next 30 days,” said Jamele. “It’s time-sensitive because we are a chapter of the national organization ... They want to put a deadline on what Moving Day has raised so they have concrete numbers.”

The foundation, with local offices in Williamsville, coordinates support groups, weekly exercise classes and a growing array of activities designed to ease the effects of Parkinson’s.

The disease, which has no known cause, is thought to stem from genetic and environmental triggers and is the subject of intense study.

A reaction leads to cell death in the dopamine neurons, interrupting signals from the brain to the muscles, causing tremors, sometimes frozen movements and difficulty walking, Jamele said.

People don’t die from it, he said, but they can be vulnerable to other afflictions.

Jamele, whose late father had Parkinson’s, served as the foundation’s communication director before he began leading the organization in February and adding new programs.

The foundation held its first skating party at Canalside the month he started, encouraging people with the disease to ride the stabilizing ice bikes and join other skaters out on the ice.

This fall, a new local branch of the Tremble Clefs, a singing group for people with Parkinson’s, will get started. Jemele also is considering a specialized boxing program.

“Movement is so key to staving off the symptoms,” he said.

Western New York has a relatively high number of patients. About 9,000 local people are currently diagnosed.