Liz Ogren

Learning of a life-altering medical condition is traumatic for anyone, but Liz Ogren became one of 60,000 Americans diagnosed each year with Parkinson's disease under particularly harrowing circumstances. On a mountain-biking trip in Utah in 2007, a sudden bout of muscle contractions left the physically fit Edina resident nearly paralyzed. As friends ushered Ogren back down the mountain, she assured them it was a one-time episode. Doctors were not so sure, and quickly pinpointed the nervous system disorder.

Ogren's initial reaction was one of disbelief. "I was only 44 at the time, and very active. It just seemed inconceivable." What followed was a period of despondency. "Parkinson's disease is a movement disorder. I thought that meant I shouldn't move, so I just sat and sulked."
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When Ogren finally mustered the courage to dive into the medical literature on the subject, however, she realized she had badly misunderstood her prognosis.

"Mobility is actually good for people with Parkinson's. If people stick with it, activities like bicycling and dancing can reduce symptoms by as much as 35%." Ogren resumed her normal routine, including her favorite hobby: bicycling. Pain reduction and mood elevation came nearly instantaneously, and Ogren realized she could not keep the good news to herself.

"Biking with Parkinson's disease seems like a bad idea because the condition brings balance issues. But not all bikes are on two wheels. Tricycles, tandem bikes, and other nontraditional cycles are perfect for people with mobility needs."

Ogren worked with friends and local bike shops to coordinate a small event to introduce Parkinson's patients to these fun bicycling alternates.

It was a watershed moment. After repeated requests for more events of this sort, Ogren incorporated "Pedal and Roll for Parkinson's," a 501(c)3 nonprofit dedicated to bringing the joy of cycling to Minnesotans with mobility needs.

"When I stopped to think about it more, my target audience was a big and scattered one," Ogren said. In addition to approximately 25,000 people with Parkinson's symptoms of varying severity, the state is home to thousands more who can benefit from the exercise. "We work with cancer patients who, because of radiation treatment, don't have the strength to pedal alone. We've worked with someone who, because of an inner ear injury, can't balance on two wheels. Parkinson's is really just the start."

Ogren is bringing her message - and a small but growing armada of bikes - to communities across greater Minnesota. "We go wherever we find people willing to take the plunge with us. Recently, I was in Bemidji and Fargo. Coming up soon, Pedal and Roll will stop in Willmar, Mankato and St. Cloud."

Ogren enjoys these day trips for what they are, but also hopes "we leave a lasting impact. The best case scenario is we plant a seed and inspire other people to host an event or start a lending library in those communities." Through a special partnership with the Williston Fitness Center in Minnetonka, Pedal and Roll for Parkinson's offers a model for how such a library can work. "This is a little like Nice Ride, [the metro's public bike sharing system], except for people who can't get their dose of exercise so easily."

The medical analogy is appropriate. "It takes 10 minutes for a doctor to see you and prescribe medicines. Is that all we can do to see to our health? Of course not. There's so much more, and the all-important exercise piece is what I'm trying to call attention to."