Ten-Year CrossFit Veteran Diagnosed with Parkinson’s, Leans on Fitness More than Ever

March 18, 2021 by
Courtesy of Dianne Ross
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It started with some mysterious finger twitching. At first, it was nothing to be too concerned about. 

But soon, Dianne Ross noticed her handwriting was getting sloppier, that she wasn’t able to whisk an egg as fast as she once could, and that her right hand started to give out when she lifted weights and she suddenly needed two hands to brush her own teeth, Ross started to wonder, “What’s going on here?”

  • Ross, who was a member of CrossFit Albury Wodonga in Australia at the time, did a “Dr Google search” and diagnosed herself with Parkinson’s disease, a brain disorder that causes shaking and stiffness, as well as balance and coordination problems. Eventually, those with the disease may have trouble walking and talking.
  • Her self-diagnosis was confirmed by medical tests in 2019. It was a tough pill to swallow. “I was upset, had a few tears about the unknown that was in front of me, as there’s no cure,” said Ross, now 49, of her emotions at the time she found out she officially had Parkinson’s.

What happened next: After shedding some tears, Ross made a quick and conscious decision to adopt a positive mindset. “The situation could have been a lot worse. I still had years of living to do,” Ross said. And she credits CrossFit, which she has been doing since 2010, with helping her remain positive and find solutions when she needed to. 

  • There were days where Ross’ symptoms prevented her from being able to drive to the gym. Ross found a solution in joining a gym closer to her house. Today, she’s a member of CrossFit TMA in Wodonga, a gym she can get to on her bike in just eight minutes.
  • She also discovered a passion for hiking, and has tackled many well-known trails in recent months, including the Inca Trail in Peru, the Atlas Mountains in Morocco, the Overland Track and Three Capes in Tasmania, and the famous Mount Everest base camp. “I’m out hiking every week, all year round,” she said. 
  • Ross added: “CrossFit and hiking work hand-in-hand. (They) give me goals to aim for, which is important. (They) help me work on my balance, motor skills, keep me fit and provide a positive mindset…The support I receive from the people I work out (with) along with the coaches is incredible. Everyone has your back.”
Courtesy of Dianne Ross

One big thing: Ross has also taken comfort in the growing body of science that suggests exercise slows the progression of Parkinson’s, a degenerative illness. 

  • Nick Penizotto, the owner of CrossFit 561 in Lake Worth, FL has ample real life evidence of the latter. He has been working with a dozen clients with Parkinson’s disease in the last three years, mostly adults over the age of 60, and has noticed a significant improvement in their motor function, balance, strength, posture and gait since they started CrossFit. “We’re basically taking people at a fall risk category out of the risk category. And then in people (who are more functional), we’re seeing normal changes we see with other clients. They’re getting strong and have more energy,” Penizotto said.

The big picture: Contrary to what people used to believe about Parkinson’s, it doesn’t need to be a death sentence, Ross explained.  And she knows that continuing to prioritize her fitness is going to help her live the best life she possibly can, for as long as she possibly can.

  • “I won’t die of Parkinson’s…I’ll die with Parkinson’s,” explained Ross on an All Things Mental Wellness podcast.
  • “Exercise gives you so much. It’s my happy place…Keep moving, there is still so much to live for,” she added. 

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