Don't stop them now: Pedaling for Parkinson's program participants push boundaries of disease

Kishwaukee Family YMCA class cycles into 2nd year

1 of 3

SYCAMORE – The Kishwaukee Family YMCA has raised enough money to keep its Pedaling for Parkinson’s class around for another year, and program participants such as Carol Lyons of Sycamore, 62, could not be happier.

“I’m just trying to stay alive,” Lyons said wryly, while cycling during a Wednesday class. Lyons was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2011.

The program, first made possible in 2017 by a $26,750 grant from the Telligen Community Initiative, an Iowa-based private charitable foundation, provides individuals with Parkinson’s disease the chance to engage in a moderately paced cycling class three days a week.

“We want to focus on constantly moving for 45 minutes straight,” said Dian Nielsen, while instructing an afternoon class. She works from a bike at the head of the YMCA’s Cycling Room adjacent to the gymnasium on the second floor.

Nielsen teaches the class Mondays and Wednesday from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. She has been a fitness instructor for 19 years and also teaches the Livestrong Cancer program, enhanced fitness classes for people with arthritis, and chair yoga at the YMCA. Nielsen grew up in a family with five handicapped brothers, and her kind and caring demeanor comes through in her instruction.

“We’re like a little family here,” Nielsen said about her class.

While Nielsen pedals, she throws out words of encouragement to her class participants, all of whom Nielsen knows by name.

The goal of the class is not speed, but endurance, and keeping the participants active at a steady and manageable pace. No one should be out of breath.

“The goal is to focus on [revolutions per minute],” Nielsen said. “We try to get everyone at 80 rpms, because that number has been proven to help with Parkinson’s symptoms.”

Although there is no cure for Parkinson’s disease, the cycling program is based on a Cleveland Clinic study and ongoing research, which show that pedaling a bicycle at a rapid pace can decrease Parkinson’s symptoms by 35 percent. Nationally, as many as a million Americans live with Parkinson’s disease.

“One hundred percent of our program participants say [the class] has made their symptoms more manageable,” said Heather Dunker, marketing and communications director for the YMCA. “We are grateful for the generosity and compassion of our community.”

Program participants do not pay anything to take the class, thanks to the Delay the Disease fundraiser, which also included a $2,800 donation from Women Supporting Faith Based Organizations, as well as a $700 donation from program participant Jan Bolander.

Nielsen emphasizes that everybody cycles at their own pace. They do stretches at the end of the class to work their muscles after the 45 minutes of cycling.

“I had knee surgery on both knees, one in 2013 and the other in December 2017, and my doctor was amazed at how flexible I am,” Lyons said. “These ladies have inspired me.”