Parkinson's can't keep local hero down: Award at Jan. 30 Tucson Victory Summit

Green Valley’s Gary Morris was looking forward to a retirement stocked with golf, tennis, his 300-score bowling games and other activities the athletic man duly enjoyed.

Local hero Gary Morris with wife Carroll/submitted photo

Local hero Gary Morris with wife Carroll/submitted photo

But Parkinson’s Disease had other plans.

Goodbye tennis, goodbye bowling. The disease let the golf game linger for the moment, but certainly made it go downhill.

Early symptoms of the degenerative brain disorder, which has gained much awareness through actor Michael J. Fox, are trembling and loss of coordination. Later symptoms may include difficulty walking, talking, swallowing and even standing without falling forwards or backwards.

The physical symptoms are just one aspect of the disease.

“Parkinson’s challenges you in all aspects of your life,” said Gary, a 68-year-old former high school German teacher. “On the emotional side, each new loss brings up anger, frustration and depression, to say nothing of feeling sorry for myself.

“I was very angry,” he recalled upon his diagnosis 12 years ago. “It was so unfair. Instead of looking forward to enjoying retirement, I felt my life was over.”

More than a decade later and with the help of his wife of 42 years, Carroll, Gary has proved you can keep on living after the diagnosis and he encourages others to do the same.

His efforts have earned him a special Local Hero Award from the Davis Phinney Foundation, which will be presented during the Jan. 30 Victory Summit here in Tucson. The foundation is named after the Olympic cyclist who had been diagnosed with Young-Onset Parkinson’s.

The Davis Phinney Foundation’s Victory Summit is an educational and inspirational event for people living with Parkinson’s Disease and their families. The event is at the JW Marriott Starr Pass Resort and Spa and is free. Click HERE for more info or to register.

Gary is former president of the Green Valley/Sahuarita Parkinson’s support group – which he calls an “incredible organization” – and he continues to volunteer because “I want to do my part.”

He also initiated and remains co-leader of the men’s discussion group and spearheaded the first annual Parkinson’s Activity Day. The activity day raised more than $2,000 for research and brought together the local Parkinson’s community.

“Gary encourages other people with Parkinson’s to stay mentally stimulated, physically active, and socially connected.  He is a hero to many and is truly deserving of the award that will be presented to him at the upcoming Victory Summit,” according to the Davis Phinney Foundation.

The Morrises, who have four adult children and moved from Minnesota in 2003, have come a long way in coping with the disease.

While Gary erupted in anger at the news of his diagnosis, Carroll had a different reaction.

“I burst out into tears,” said the 65-year-old writer, certified hypnotherapist and Rapid Eye technician. “My mother had had Parkinson’s, and I knew all too well what the diagnosis meant. The doctor looked at me and asked, ‘Why are you crying?’ which made me cry more.”

Carroll’s mother died after suffering with Parkinson’s for 14 years.

“Having Mr. Parkinson’s as a third partner in the marriage means we are constantly having to adjust to his demands as well as our personal needs,” Carroll said. “It’s not easy to find the right balance. You adjust to a new loss of ability and get used to a ‘new normal.’ Then you wake up one day, and there’s something new to adjust to.”

Adjustment and perseverance are definitely key to dealing with the disease.

“I keep going,” Gary said. “I’ve changed my expectations and found new avenues – I now bowl on the Wii machine.”

He also frequents the local recreation center and a special weekly program at the Green Valley Country Club where folks with Parkinson’s can use the facilities.

“We don’t do so well,” he said, “but we’re out there, and it gives us a lot of pleasure.”

Gary also gleans pleasure from helping others.

“Staying active and helping others picks me up again. Reading Michael J Fox’s Lucky Man was a big help early on. He taught me that a person with Parkinson’s can still be happy.”

The disease has also brought the couple closer.

“We’ve learned to communicate better,” Carroll said. “We’ve had conversations that we might never have had otherwise, about our feelings, fears, plans for how to handle increasing disability.”

They have also learned to appreciate the life’s little pleasures – and how to stay upbeat.

“When I feel down because of my situation – which by the way isn’t nearly as bad as what some others with Parkinson’s are dealing with – I perk myself up with little sayings like: I feel good, I feel fine, I feel this way all the time! We climb mountains, we climb hills; When that doesn’t work, we take our pills!”

The worst thing someone with Parkinson’s – or a caregiver – could do is try to do it alone.

“It’s a tough journey,” Gary said, “but there are those who can and will make it with you.”

___

Gary’s top three tips for those with Parkinson’s:

The answer to that question is in the motto I came up with for our Green Valley/Sahuarita Parkinson’s support group:

Give Parkinson’s the SAC

Stay

Mentally Stimulated

Physically Active

Socially Connected

Carroll’s top tips for caregivers of those with Parkinson’s:

1. Learn as much as you can about the disease.

2. Communicate clearly with care partner, family and doctor

3. Take advantage of all the programs the American Parkinson Disease Association offers caregivers, such as reduced cost for respite care and massages.

4. Forgive yourself and forgive your care partner.

Her big message:

Take care of yourself. Between 60 and 75 percent of caregivers have stress-related health problems, including insomnia, high blood pressure, stomach problems. Also, a high percentage of caregivers will die before the person they’re caring for. This is not because of a pre-existing condition, according to Valerie Schultz, a counselor at the Los Angeles Caregiver Resource Center, but because they stop taking care of themselves.

[tnipoll]

___

Ryn’s column will appear Monday as the TucsonCitizen.com editorial in the Arizona Daily Star and here on Rynski’s Blogski. Stay tuned, right after you stand up and cheer for Gary and Carroll.

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Have you been diagnosed with Parkinson’s? What other advice could you offer?

What other advice would you give for dealing with other diseases or being a caregiver?

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About Rynski

Writer, artist, performer who specializes in the weird, wacky and sometimes creepy. Learn more at ryngargulinski.com.
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19 Responses to Parkinson's can't keep local hero down: Award at Jan. 30 Tucson Victory Summit

  1. radmax says:

    Mornin’ Rynski. Great to hear these folks have come to terms with Parkinson’s. Must require a lot of determination and patience. Best wishes for the future to the Morrises.

    • Rynski says:

      mornin’ radmax –
      i, too, send them tons of great wishes. awesome when folks successfully overcome. also glad he still found a way to bowl. now that’s a trooper!

      • Jennatoolz says:

        Haha, I liked how he called it a “Wii machine.” My mom bought a Wii, and plays all the little sports games from time to time. Some of the games get pretty physical, and you get a good work out from it, haha!

      • Rynski says:

        actually sounds pretty fun!
        maybe they have a game where you can play with dogs, too – hahahahha.
         

  2. Jennatoolz says:

    Hi Ryn! This story is great! The man is definitely inspirational and seems to be an amazing person to look up to. So glad to see that he’s out there being active both physically and with the community. My mom was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis a few years ago, and it made me really depressed for a while, because my then-boyfriends mother had it too. She was in a more advanced state and I saw how crippling it could be. Seeing that, and knowing how independent my mom was, I was just heartbroken for her. She doesn’t let her pain stop her from going out and playing with her dogs at the park, or joining a bowling league. Way to go mom! and Way to go Gary! for not letting their diseases stop them in their tracks. 🙂

    • Rynski says:

      hiya jenna!
      your mom sounds like an inspiration, as well. yaaay mom! it’s esp. beautiful that she still goes playing with the dogs in the park – life is one bland highway if you don’t get to play with dogs in the park!
      i’ve also seen others close to me who are riddled with pain from physical ailment – and they keep on keeping on. it’s amazing what people can do when determined enough.
      gary is truly one of those amazing people, too.
      glad you enjoyed story.
       

    • azmouse says:

      Good for Mom!

  3. azmouse says:

    Beautiful story and what a beautiful couple! They are really in it together and they remind me of the spectacular union my parents have, who will be celebrating their 50th anniversary this year.

    They seem like they’d be cool people to hang out with.

    • Rynski says:

      i agree, az! they DO look like cool people to hang out with – and they are beautiful and inspiring.
      carroll is also an author, who collaborates with her sister, the books sound dang interesting, too.

      • azmouse says:

        What are they about?

      • Rynski says:

        here’s description of new book, LEANING INTO THE CURVES, due out in april (nancy is sister):
        NANCY AND CARROLL’S NEW BOOK
        Our main character, Molly, is happy with her life until her husband retires. She’s still trying to adjust to the changes when he brings home a motorcycle —and she hates the two-wheeled beasts!
         
         

      • azmouse says:

        LOL! I’m laughing because that sounds like my Mom after my Dad retired, which happened very recently. It apparently is a huge adjustment period in people’s lives.

      • Rynski says:

        that’s funny! you should get the book when it comes out…or write your own with mom’s input!

      • azmouse says:

        Yes, sounds like it would be a perfect gift for Mom.

  4. koreyk says:

    Gary and Carrol’s advice also applies to those with Alzheimers and their caregivers.
     
    Best to the Morrises.

    • Rynski says:

      good point, koreyk – can also apply to ALL caregivers.  i was esp. dismayed at the no. of caregivers who get so stressed out they die before the person they are caring for. eek!
      “take care of yourself”  – is a good one – for anyone! not only caregivers.

  5. Carroll and Gary Morris says:

    Thank you for the great writeup, Ryn. Gary and I appreciate it very much.
    Thanks also to everyone who’s left comments. Reading them has made us feel more connected with Tucson because we’re now connected with all of you.

    • Rynski says:

      hi carroll and gary,
      my pleasure to help spread the word on your amazing success in dealing with parkinson’s.
      keep up your excellent work and role model status!
       
       
       

  6. Michael says:

    Guten Tag Herr Morris!
    Mr Morris was my German language teacher at Wayzata High School from 1986 to 1988 (in MN).  Herr Morris, you were, and continue to be, one of my favourite teachers in and out of the classroom.  Thank you Ryn for writing an article about a truely great man.  I know this article is nearly a year old now but I hope my reply somehow reaches Herr Morris.
    I don’t know if you are still involved in the Tour of Tuscon Herr Morris but I’d love to come down to Arizona and ride in support of APDA.  There is no way I can pay back the debt I owe to you as a teacher but I hope that one day we can meet again and you can admonish me for not studying my future and present tenses.
    Pass auf dich auf!
    Michael

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