What happens after you are diagnosed with Parkinson's? You get up and get moving, says Rob Warner of Tehachapi.
Earlier this month, Warner and his three children donned sky blue T-shirts and participated in an endurance race in Pasadena for Team Hope in a FUNdraising event for the National Parkinson Foundation.
The four participating Warners included Rob, his daughters Emily, 16, and Robyn, 14, and son, Grant, 9. Rob's wife, Wendy, supported her family on the sidelines, cheering them along and taking pictures. The Warners also have a third daughter, Sara.
The race was a triathlon, which included a run, bike and swim. Emily placed first in her division for participants under the age of 25. Robyn placed third in her division, and Grant took third place in his division even though he was feeling sick at the start of the race.
"The triathlon wasn't set up specifically as a fundraiser for the Parkinson Foundation, but we used that as an event where we could earn money to go toward research," Rob said. "They offer a website that people can go to and learn about how to raise money and read our story."
Rob was diagnosed with Young Onset Parkinson's at age 33.
Said Rob, "I started having symptoms in 2007, but because I was so young, it took a long time for them (doctors) to come up with a diagnosis."
Rob said he sought medical attention after noticing his pinky finger twitching, a first symptom he shared with celebrity Michael J. Fox, who was diagnosed with Young Onset Parkinson's at age 29. This first doctor he saw in Lancaster thought he had Lou Gehrig's Disease.
Emily was 7 when her father first started showing symptoms.
Said Emily, "My parents didn't really share with me what was going on until about a year later. At first I didn't really understand what it meant because I was so young, but later on as the disease progressed, I started noticing that it was harder for him to move around."
Even before the diagnosis, the Warners were always an active family.
Said Emily, "We waterski, snow ski, go backpacking in the Sierras, and we play all sorts of sports together. Even though I know it's harder for my dad to do these things with us now, he still encourages us to always be physically active and wants us to be happy no matter what trials we face in our lives. He is a great example to me. I know it would be easy for him to throw in the towel and not get off the couch and stay active, but no matter what, he never gives up."
Hard as it may seem, Rob maintains a sense of humor about his diagnosis.
"They say if you get a neurological disease, Parkinson's is the one to get," he jokes. "You don't die from Parkinson's, but you can get complications from it, like a fall, and that's how you can pass."
Rob does not experience tremors, common in Parkinson's patients, but he does display masked emotions and a slowness in gait and speech. To combat these symptoms, he exercises.
Said Rob, "When I'm on a bike every day or running, I am almost normal."
In 2015 he underwent deep brain stimulation surgery, during which a pacemaker-type box for the brain was implanted. The implant sends different pulses to his brain via diodes.
Said Rob, "That has really helped. I was up to 20 pills a day, but now I am down to about four and a half pills."
Despite his diagnosis, Rob maintains full-time employment at Edwards Air Force Base as a flight test engineer. He has also participated in the Tehachapi GranFondo for the past two years.
Said Rob, "I might try to talk my kids into doing the GranFondo with me this year. I may try to do a triathlon again in St. George up in Utah as well."
The youngest Warner says he is also looking forward to future races.
Said Grant, "I was a little nervous before the race started, but after it was done I was happy because I had finished and I didn't have to worry about it for another year. I was proud to compete with my family and Team Warner. I am really looking forward to doing it again next year!"
For more information on the National Parkinson Foundation's unique, FUNdraising events or to make a donation to Team Hope to benefit research, visit http://www3.parkinson.org and look up Team Warner.
Small Town, Big People is a new series of stories focused on interesting people in the Tehachapi community. If you would like to nominate someone for a future installment, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.