UNC senior Ben Gleiter rides his bike around a corner near UNC's Old Well. A silver mailbox perched on his back tire bears the words: “Pedaling for Parkinson's.”
He rides his bike to class everyday to raise money for his mom, Kathleen Gleiter, who was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease at the age of 54.
Parkinson’s disease is a progressive disorder that affects the nervous system and other parts of the body controlled by nerves. It is the fastest-growing neurodegenerative disorder in the world. It is expected that the number of people living with this disease will double in the next 20 years.
After Kathleen Gleiter learned that she had Parkinson’s disease, many of her family and friends were devastated. Through support groups, she found out about an event called “Moving Day,” and the mother-son duo attended it together.
“Once I found out, I just wanted to be there for her and make sure she knew that I loved her,” Ben Gleiter said.
Moving Day is a fundraiser to raise awareness and research for Parkinson's. The name reflects the fact that exercise is the only thing proven to help slow the progression of Parkinson's disease.
At the event, Ben discovered the Bike Box Project, and ever since he has been working to raise awareness and money on his mother's behalf. The project is part of the Michael J. Fox Foundation's efforts to research a cure for Parkinson's.
“We ran into a group of people that were part of this Bike Box Project, raising money across the country for the Michael J. Fox Foundation,” Kathleen Gleiter said. “Ben was immediately interested in that because he's an athlete and he bikes a lot.”
Ben Gleiter is now a part of the planning committee for this year’s Moving Day which will take place on Nov. 5 in Raleigh. The event will include a walk as well as exercise demonstrations that people with the disease can do to help brain cells stay healthy.
“We just took strength from the fact that she’s not going through this alone. We’re absolutely wrapping her up in a big hug and doing it with her,” Margaret Brounk, Kathleen’s twin sister, said.
Parkinson's is traditionally a disease that affects older men. Kathleen Gleiter said shewants to raise awareness and research resources studying the disease in women.
Ben Gleiter said he also plans to ride 40 miles to New Bern on Oct. 29 as part of the Bike Box Project fundraising.
“I try to make an impact on not only (my mom's) life specifically but the lives of people with Parkinson's in general," he said. "Because after learning first-hand, it is definitely a difficult disease, and it’s important to give people the resources they need to combat it.”
Kathleen Gleiter has done everything she can to stay optimistic. She said she exercises often, constantly tries to inspire her kids and raises money for research and awareness of the disease.
“It just means the world to me that (Ben) is out there on the frontlines leading with his head and heart to do this on my behalf,” Kathleen said.
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