Western Nebraska Observer - Observations all along the line - Kimball & the Southern Panhandle First

Fox tours high points to raise funds, awareness to fight Parkinson's disease


John Verser

A crowd of more than 40 gathered to welcome Sam Fox (on the high point marker) to the Nebraska High Point southwest of Bushnell early Monday evening. Fox is traveling across the country to visit each state's high point as a fundraiser for the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's disease research.

As Sam Fox criss-crossed the dirt roads leading to the Nebraska High Point, the 28-year old Rhode Island native said it looked like one giant party was ahead.

It was.

More than 40 people turned out to greet Fox as he reached the high point shortly after 5 p.m. Monday evening. Fox has been traveling across the country since early June to each state's high point as part of Tour de Fox, part of the Michael J. Fox Foundation, to raise both funds and awareness to help cure Parkinson's disease. The Nebraska High Point was his 38th stop.

"We have had huge crowds and small crowds. This is a very big crowd, considering when I mapped this and I figured I'd be riding on a dirt roads for 25 miles," he said. "I thought maybe we'd get one or two people to come out. This is incredible. I want to think everybody for coming out. I think you deserve a round of applause."

"This is quite a turnout, so I think we're putting it right up there near the top of the list," Fox added.

Each stop has been unique. Some have been atop mountains, while others have been in a parking lot. Monday's stop was in a field southwest of Bushnell.

However, Fox (no relation to Michael J. Fox) said it was the people they meet more than the location that has made the journey more than worthwhile.

"I think the people that we met are the reason we're able to keep going every day," he said. "We're covering a lot of miles in the car, on the bikes, on our feet, and it could certainly get old if we didn't have crowds like this to meet us at each spot that we're stopping."

According to the Mayo Clinic, Parkinson's disease is a "progressive disorder of the nervous system that affects movement." The disease develops over time and may be difficult to detect at its onset.

One of the trip's goals is to raise $1 million for research into Parkinson's disease. Kristen Milliron, advancement officer with the Michael J. Fox Foundation, said 89 cents out of every dollar raised by the foundation is used for research. She said 100 percent of the funds raised through Tour de Fox go to research.

"Our mission is to find a cure and to go out of business, essentially," she said.

Milliron said they also hope to find ways to slow down and reverse the effects of the disease in order to fight it better.

"Right now, the standard medicine people are prescribed has been around since 1969," she said. "It has a lot of side effects. We're working on ways to deliver it differently so we can eliminate those side effects."

The Tour de Fox is not just a job for Sam Fox, but it is also a personal journey. His mother was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease when he was just 11 years old.

"It took me a while to understand what that really meant," he said. "I feel like when I did, that's when I got involved with the Fox Foundation. I started as a volunteer and now I'm a full-time adventurer. When I'm in the office it's not quite as exciting as my life out here."

Those on the team, which includes Fox and several others, started out in Maine on June 3 and have zig-zagged across the country since that time. He even had some extra special help in his home state, which he quipped may be the smallest state but the high point is not the lowest in elevation - but the sixth-lowest.

"My mom came out and climbed Rhode Island with us," he said. "Not much of a climb, and actually, she probably could have handled more. But I'm glad it was a relatively simple flat walk."

Fox said that although there have been some extremely breathtaking views along the way, the stops that have meant the most are those with large groups of people to visit with.

"I think generally the best part of the summer has been the people we've met, some of our larger groups where we get a chance to meet a whole lot of different people with a bunch of different experience, but all tied together by some form of Parkinson's disease - whether their mom has it, their grandfather had it or they have it themselves," he said.

The Rhode Island native has traveled the vast majority of the distance on his bicycle, other than when there is a time crunch. The group is also making a documentary about the journey, which will be available at some point after its completion.

John Verser

Sam Fox leans on the monument marking the Nebraska High Point during Monday's stop at the location southwest of Bushnell.

After leaving Kimball County, Fox and his companions traveled to the Kansas high point near Goodland. They will wrap up their stops in the U.S. in Washington state on Sept. 9, before crossing the border to end the journey in the hometown of Michael J. Fox, which is Vancouver, British Columbia, on Sept. 12.

"From a personal standpoint, this has been a lot of fun," Fox said. "It's been exhausting. I don't know if I would ride this many bike miles or climb this many miles in such a short amount of time, but from a personal standpoint, it has been a lot of fun.

"Because my professional tie to this cause is very personal, they kind of blend together. It's been rewarding, it's been successful, it's been more than we expected. I have no complaints."


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