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March 4, 2024

Bouncing Back: Resilience Through Pickleball

By: Terence Degnan

CityPickle, in partnership with Douglas Elliman and Gearbox, is a proud sponsor of Pickleball for Parkinson's. This event supports Michael J. Fox Foundation's mission to cure Parkinson's and improve patients' lives. Terence Degnan, a real estate professional from Douglas Elliman who initiated this meaningful cause, experienced first-hand the solidarity and inclusivity of the pickleball community. Read about his personal battle with Parkinson's and the positive effects pickleball played in his journey. 

Join us on March 17, 2024 from 4-6 pm at CityPickle to support this vital cause. All proceeds will benefit the Michael J. Fox Foundation, aligning with our commitment to bolster community and impactful causes. For involvement details, visit the links below.

A heavy story with a pickleball ending.

A few years back —I can’t remember how many— I woke up with a slight tick in my right thumb. Memories, as time would prove, can be very funny. I pointed this new anomaly out to my wife and made an appointment with my long-time general practitioner to have it checked out. At the appointment, my doctor asked if there was any history of tremors in my family, to which I reported that my father had developed one later in life. He diagnosed me with a common malady called an “essential tremor.” No meds. No PT. Just some daily annoyances that I’d become accustomed to over time. End of story. Right? 

A few years later, my old man was dying and I began to notice that the tremor had spread to other fingers and my right eye seemed to have a slight squint in photographs. I figured I’d revisit the conversation with medical professionals after the tough family business had come to its inevitable conclusion. I had enough on my plate, and if it was more serious, I wouldn’t want to burden them with any additional stress or hard news. After Dad’s funeral, my brothers and I were having a beer at a pizza joint in their hometown, waiting to bring pies back to one of their houses, where hungry mourners awaited. I could not physically sign the tab. I had developed a serious limp. Words which used to bubble to the surface with ease were escaping me. I would wake up with my toes curled in a ball. My hand was a wreck. My younger brother asked, “What’s going on with your hand, Terry?” I was in some serious trouble. 

Once home I saw neurologists. Had tests. Missed work for brain scans. Had MRIs to get acute MRIs. Ran down hospital hallways to have my gait assessed. Followed pencil erasers with my eyeballs. Said the calendar backwards. Tried to make my tremor stop by willing it. It worked for seconds at a time. Had blood drawn. Saw my thoughts on a colorful screen. Met technicians. Nurses. A cornucopia of NYC medical professionals. They recommended me up the echelons. They all said, “We’re pretty sure we know what this is. So are you, right?” They didn’t have the prestige to render a formal diagnosis. Ten months after my dad’s death, a man with a nice smile and a warm demeanor and the right PHD said, “Terence. You have Early-Onset Parkinson’s Disease. This is not a death sentence, although you seem fatalistic. I’d like to see you every three months. You need anaerobic exercise. Something with endorphins and dopamine release. Something that makes you happy. See a therapist. Tell your wife.” 

I was devastated. My wife, Melanie, was devastated. I took a long walk with my daughter. I called my friends. They cried. They laughed. You have to. I was in the middle of my life. I had a book coming out in the spring. We had a car with four doors. We had a weekend place. I didn’t bargain with God. I didn’t deny my bombshell. I traveled inward. This wasn’t my first rodeo; it was my first earthquake. We had medical debt and cats to feed.

My friend Denver said, “try pickleball.” I sucked. I looked like a punchy boxer after going uncountable rounds. I couldn’t serve. I lost. I lost tens of matches. Hundreds. Thousands? My balls flew into the East River. Over fences with separate area codes. I lost to children. I lost more pickleball games than babies do. My brother sent gear. Shoes nobody could afford. My wife bought paddles. Paddles we couldn’t afford. I played with pros. We’d lose. I played for hours. Whole weekends. I visited my doctor. Something was working. “I’ll see you in six months.” Then nine. He reduced my meds. Said therapy wasn’t necessary. I made hundreds of friends in the same cult I’d joined. I preached pickleball to anyone who would listen. Got sponsored from Gearbox. Played in tournaments. Doc said that my symptoms are half of what they used to be. While grinning. I became present with folks. Began to assume they, too, were dealing with some unforeseen demons. I lightened. My load was less than before that jive day in November. I ventured back out into the daylight. I was joyful.

Still, Parkinson’s is no joke. Bad days are inevitable and worse are promised. I want to help find a cure. I want this to be the last story of this kind. I want you to help me. There’s 6.2 million of us with this. Let’s aim for zero. Play pickleball with me. I’m a gas to be around. Just ask my new/next partner. This morning. Tomorrow. 

Please donate directly to The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Research:

We are fully booked for our Pickleball for Parkinson’s event on March 17th. Please join the waitlist to be notified of the next Pickleball for Parkinson’s event!

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