Time out with T.O. - On a roll against Parkinson's

by Tom O'Connor, UNMC strategic communications (retired) | September 03, 2020

Image with caption: From left, Howard Gendelman, MD, and Ted Wuebben prepare for Saturday's fundraising bike ride, the start of a 351-mile trek that will end in Valentine on Sept. 13.

From left, Howard Gendelman, MD, and Ted Wuebben prepare for Saturday's fundraising bike ride, the start of a 351-mile trek that will end in Valentine on Sept. 13.

The Wuebben family is at it again.

The family that has raised money and awareness for Parkinson's disease with a 24-hour skate-a-thon at the UNMC Ice Rink for the past 10 years is now going rural.

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Ted Wuebben is a big fan of UNMC/Nebraska Medicine.

"When I asked Dr. (Howard) Gendelman to be grand marshal for the bike ride, he said, 'I'd be honored.' That's the kind of support that means so much to a nonprofit like ours," said Wuebben, who is vice chair of Parkinson's Nebraska.

"We can't thank UNMC enough. From Colleen's diagnosis and treatment to 10 years of the UNMC Skate-a-thon for Parkinson's to the upcoming bike ride to Valentine, the medical center has been with us all the way. That means the world to us."

Anybody can make a donation by going to the Parkinson's Nebraska website.

This time, instead of ice skates, they will be using bicycles to connect with families across Nebraska who have been impacted by Parkinson's.

The adventure will begin on Saturday, Sept. 5, when Ted Wuebben, vice chair of Parkinson's Nebraska, is joined by Howard Gendelman, MD, professor and chair of the UNMC Department of Pharmacology and Experimental Neuroscience, to begin a 351-mile bike trek that will end in Valentine, Nebraska, on Sunday, Sept. 13.

A starting center on one of the best basketball teams in Creighton University's history, Wuebben (pronounced web-ben) is now 68 years old. An internationally renowned Parkinson's researcher, Dr. Gendelman, 66, will serve as grand marshal for the event.

"This event brings together the community with medical center researchers," Dr. Gendelman said. "It is a wonderful opportunity to illustrate these community bonds, to bring the importance of research forward and to showcase discoveries made into new therapies made here in Nebraska. The Wuebben family is a great partner and true inspiration in achieving all these goals."

"I like to joke that Howie is 5 feet, 6 inches, and I'm 5 feet, 18 inches," Wuebben said. "It's no doubt an odd combination, and we have had quite a few birthdays between us. But, we both have the same objective -- to make life better for people with Parkinson's."

Wuebben knows all about Parkinson's. His wife, Colleen, was diagnosed with Parkinson's in 2005 at age 52. She died in 2013 at age 60.

Colleen founded Parkinson's Nebraska. The Wuebben family started the skate-a-thon in 2008 by flooding their back yard. Three years later, to grow the event, they decided to move it to the UNMC Ice Rink.

Oh, how it has grown. In 10 years at the UNMC Ice Rink, the skate-a-thon has raised more than $244,000 for Parkinson's, including a record $34,000 in 2020 with 525 skaters.

"Like the skate-a-thon, the bike ride is a crazy enough idea that it just might work," said Dr. Gendelman, an avid bike rider who has been riding his bike to work on a regular basis 20 miles/day for the past nine years. He plans to ride the first day.

Wuebben will be joined by family members and other supporters. His game plan is to ride about 50 miles per day. Once the group reaches Norfolk, Nebraska, they will take the Cowboy Trail, a scenic 195-mile route that runs through about 20 northern Nebraska towns.

At each stop, he hopes to connect with media and families to let them know that Parkinson's Nebraska is there for the entire state. They will hand out face masks and T-shirts along the way.

"Parkinson's can be a lonely disease -- especially if you live in a rural community and don't have a support group to tap into," Wuebben said. "It's nice to be able to call someone up if you're having a bad day and know that they are there for you . . . that they won't judge you.

"We want to better connect with Parkinson's patients around Nebraska, especially in rural communities. Through its exercise programs, support groups and educational classes, Parkinson's Nebraska can provide the technical support needed to make this happen."

Another Parkinson's Nebraska board member, Ryan Cary, is planning to ride about 230 miles from Scottsbluff to Valentine. He'll start on Friday, Sept. 11, and arrive in Valentine when Wuebben's group does on Sept. 13.

Cary's father, Stephen, 72, was officially diagnosed with Parkinson's in 2006, but he first started showing symptoms about 20 years ago.

Like Wuebben, this will be something Cary has no idea if he can handle. But, he's not one to run from the challenge. After all, he has skated all 24 hours of the skate-a-thon on several occasions.

"I'm a little worried," said Cary, who will be joined by his friends, Ed Reiss and Chad Smith. "The most I've ever ridden is about 63 miles. We are planning to ride about 100 miles on each of the first two days. The way I look at it. If I can skate for 24 hours, I think I can stretch myself to do this.

"Our goal is to help everyone in Nebraska with Parkinson's. What better way to tie it all together -- Ted will come from the east, I'll come from the west, and we'll meet in the middle."

With Colleen Wuebben looking down from above, something tells me everything will be just fine.

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Matt Pohren
September 03, 2020 at 8:23 PM

Agreed, nice job, TO. Always a great read.

Donny Suh, MD
September 03, 2020 at 8:27 AM

Great article, TO! Thank you for wonderful work. We truly appreciate it. Donny