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Walking 500 miles to fight Parkinson's

Harry McMurtry (Artsci’85, Law’89) and Sue Thompson (Artsci’87, MA’89) have a lot in common. They each have two degrees from Queen’s University and they were varsity athletes – McMurtry played basketball and Thompson was a rower.

Sue Thompson, left, and Harry McMurtry, second from left, have met a lot of supporters as they walk from New York City to Toronto. (Supplied Photo)

Together they are putting up a big fight against the illness they both suffer from – Parkinson’s disease. McMurtry and Thompson, along with Dr. Ross Sugar of Baltimore, are taking part in 500 Miles For Parkinson’s. It’s a fundraising walk from New York City to Toronto that started on May 7 and sees the trio travel up to 15 miles a day for 45 days with the goal of raising $500,000.

“This walk is about promoting ability rather than disability. It is about showcasing people living well with Parkinson's disease. With great treatment, backed up by great research, people with Parkinson's can live meaningful lives,” says McMurtry. “People with Parkinson’s do not wish to be identified with the disease. They wish to be viewed and treated as intact people.”

The walk is generating a lot of buzz. NHL great Wayne Gretzky is the 500 Miles honorary patron and celebrity ambassadors include singer Tom Cochrane, TV personality Jeanne Beker, and Olympic gold medalist Adam van Koeverden. Harry’s 500 mile journey has been profiled in People Magazine, CBC Radio, and CTV’s etalk.

McMurtry had a successful career as a lawyer when he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s more than a decade ago. The disease eventually forced him to retire from his job, but he remains committed to raising awareness and funds to battle the degenerative disease.

“500 Miles For Parkinson’s project has been 18 months in the making. Starting with a steering committee of three people, it morphed into six working committees, many local organizing committees, and dozens of volunteers. An undertaking of this magnitude demanded the investment of a lot of hours by many people,” he says.

Thompson, who is 50 and was diagnosed at age 47, did not know McMurtry when they were at Queen’s but she heard about his fundraising walk through a mutual friend and decided to join.

“One of the things that attracted me to this walk was the opportunity to raise funds and awareness at the same time. I am an educator, and so the chance to raise awareness through school visits and connections was hugely important to me,” says Thompson, who works as a guidance counsellor with the University of Toronto Schools.

There are planned stops in various communities along the way, including Kingston on June 4-7. This stop will be special for the duo because they loved their time at Queen’s and hope the university community will come out and support them. Activities include a welcome ceremony at Kingston City Hall at 3:30 pm on June 4 and a 3-on-3 fundraising basketball tournament (run by the Queen’s men’s varsity basketball team). The major fundraiser in Kingston is Pints for Parkinson’s taking place on June 7 at 5:30 pm at the Fort Henry Discovery Centre.

Jasmin Cameron, an adjunct instructor in the Queen’s School of Rehabilitation Therapy and Dr. Karen Graham from the Department of Emergency Medicine are helping organize the Kingston area events.

A full list of Kingston events can be found on the 500 Miles website.