Andrew “Pegs” Pengelly is an inspiring story of courage in the face of adversity. After learning of his diagnosis in his early fifties, Andrew set about constructing a new vision for his life. Part of that vision was a plan of exercise and this year he decided to run over 300km along the River Thames in London. Recently, we asked him about this extraordinary experience.
What drives your commitment to find a cure for Parkinson’s?
My motivation and commitment to find a cure for Parkinson’s is because I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease (PD) nearly a year ago, around the time of my 51st Birthday.
After recovering from the initial shock of the diagnosis, I immersed myself in all the information and research available and resolved that I would do everything possible to delay its progression.
This resolution was in two parts; the first was to follow a ten point plan that would see me take regular mental and physical exercise, meditation, rest, nutritious food and supplements so that my mind and body had the optimum resources available to it. This was something that I could follow daily.
The second part was more externally focussed in that I realised I would need support from friends and family as my condition progressed. I also felt that I should take some responsibility to increase the general awareness of Parkinson’s disease as well as to raise funds to help find a cure. To address this, I set up a Facebook page called “IAmPegs ” shortly after being diagnosed. This shares positive and proactive information about Parkinson’s, whilst also following my own journey with the condition. I hope that the page will be a vehicle to inspire others to support those with Parkinson’s and will help raise funds for Shake It Up and so to help find slow it down or to a cure.
Tell us what you did to fundraise for Parkinson’s Research?
I sought donations and sponsorship for Shake It Up for running along the length of the Thames River in the UK.
It is a run that I had originally devised and planned to run alone for a total of 187 miles (300km) over eight days in 2011. I named it “The Source to the Salt” as it started at source of the Thames in a small field near Kemble; through the beautiful English countryside before passing through the heart of London until it reached the Thames Barrier at the sea. Overall, it comprised of a half marathon on the first day followed by six marathons in six days and ended with a half marathon on the final day.
Unfortunately, the month before I was due to attempt this run in May 2011, I suffered a significant injury and was advised by doctors not to run any more long distance events for a period of at least two years. This meant shelving the Source to the Salt as I was to then emigrate from the UK to Perth, Western Australia in 2012.
As part of my ten point self-improvement plan that I drafted shortly after diagnosis in 2018, I had increased my running from maybe three or four times a week, to six or seven times. I found that this increase brought noticeable improvements in my physical symptoms of PD but also yielded significant improvements in my general health and fitness. So much so in fact, my weekly 5K parkrun times were falling to match those times that I had logged from five or six years previously. Encouraged by these results, I committed to resurrecting the plans to run the Source to the Salt and try to achieve something I had not been able to achieve pre-diagnosis.
After four months of progressively increasing the training distances to up to 165 km (100 miles) per week, I felt I was ready. I flew back to the UK and blogged the attempt through the IAmPegs Facebook page. I also used a GPS tracker so that friends, both in the UK and in Australia, could monitor my progress and journey along the 300km route. The GPS tracker was great as friends could see my progress real time and would unexpectedly meet me on the route and run with me for part of the way each day. These surprise visits and support uplifted me so much that looking back at the pace charts recorded by my GPS, I can tell where I had company as I would always run stronger and faster whilst chatting with my accompanying friends!
The Source to the Salt was the first multi-day endurance run I had ever attempted. Consequently, during the training, I had been concerned as to how both my mind and body would cope with the load of running a marathon a day for six consecutive days. Overall, to complete the Source to the Salt I would have to run more than 300Km in just over a week – a distance that was nearly twice as far as I had completed in training. Also, given my diagnosis, I was worried that such a stress upon the body would have an adverse impact on my Parkinson’s symptoms, for the duration of the run at least.
In the end, both concerns were proved to be unfounded and I completed all of the six marathons at a similar pace each day – all within a range of between 4 hours 20 minutes to 4 hours and 39 minutes.
Indeed, I was surprised how resilient both my mental strength and body was and how readily I could maintain control to keep going day after day. As the days passed and the Thames grew wider and larger, my own confidence mirrored its growth and became greater also. This self-belief developed so that by the time I reached the finish at the Thames Barrier and I knew that I had achieved my goal, I could see that I was so much stronger, determined and frankly tougher than I ever thought I could be.
I know that these attributes will be called upon in the future to get me through some tough days ahead on my journey with Parkinson’s. However, with the support of family and friends, I know I can achieve any goal I set myself.
How did you feel after completing your challenge?
I was elated with the overwhelming feeling of satisfaction that I had achieved something so significant; something that I had originally planned hoped to accomplish eight years ago and for which that I had been training daily in a focused way for the last four months. Crossing the line, I knew that I was a stronger person and could confidently endure so much more than I had previously thought possible.
Also, I realised that Parkinson’s wasn’t a hindrance or a burden in achieving this goal. Conversely, in fact, I could recognise that there was a bigger picture in that it was being diagnosed with Parkinson’s that had prompted me to increase the exercise levels and to try and achieve a long held goal before my condition made such an attempt impossible. This resulted in me achieving something I had wanted to achieve for many years.
I also felt humbled for all of the amazing support and encouragement I had received. This started during the months of training with early morning runs in Western Australia; to the messages of support received from hundreds of friends and followers on the IAmPegs page to the friends who accompanied me on the run and encouraged me so much to achieve this goal.
In conclusion, the Source to the Salt was an incredible, life-changing event for me. It taught me to persevere and to have confidence in my own mental and physical resilience. I also feel more connected with so many people who I know will help and support me in the challenges that lie ahead.