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Runner sets good example for all

A lot has been written about changes to the nation’s health care system in recent months.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and other factors are forcing us to change the way we think about insurance and medical costs, and it is becoming increasingly clear that individuals will have to assume more responsibility for their own health and well-being than ever before.

Employers are reinforcing that message by requiring staff members to keep a closer eye on their health by getting regular checkups and adopting healthier lifestyles. Words such as preventative care are becoming a part of everyday vocabularies.

The uncertainties posed by the health care changes are a concern and we may feel ill-equipped to deal with them. How do we find the motivation we will need to meet the new challenges?

That’s why people like Rhonda Foulds are so inspiring. Foulds has Parkinson’s disease, but that doesn’t define her. It is her determination and drive to overcome the disease that sets her apart.

Foulds is a runner who has competed in at least 300 races since 2009. She said she developed a love for running because it helps her forget — that 10 years ago she was confined to a wheelchair, that she has Parkinson’s disease and that’s she in the 14th year of the 20 years doctors said she could expect to live.

Parkinson’s disease is a motor system disorder caused by the loss of dopamine-producing brain cells. Early symptoms are subtle, occur gradually and usually affect people older than 50.

“I was 35,” she told us. “And I was pretty depressed to say the least.”

Some of the symptoms that Foulds experiences include stiffness of the limbs, depression and imbalance. In fact, she told us that it’s sometimes difficult for her to get out of bed.

Foulds credits running with saving her life and returning the drive for life that she lost after her diagnosis. More than 10 years ago, she said was taking about 30 medications, was about 100 pounds heavier and sinking further into depression.

Foulds said she discovered that running temporarily restored the dopamine levels that decrease over time in Parkinson’s patients. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, dopamine is a chemical that helps control the brain’s reward and pleasure centers. It also helps regulate movement and emotional responses. According to the CDC, studies show that physical activity can help treat Parkinson’s, which is incurable.

Dr. Giselle M. Petzinger, who is with the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation, said exercise can help people like Foulds walk and move more normally. And research is beginning to reveal how it reconditions the underlying brain circuits, she said.

Earlier this year, Foulds was one of the more than 20,000 runners who competed in the Boston Marathon. She got off to a slow start and called her husband, who was waiting at the finish line, to tell him that she was feeling sluggish and the run would take a little longer than usual.

Her husband decided to leave the area, and a few minutes later, two bombs exploded near the finish line. Foulds’ race was cut short by eight miles.

Like many runners who participated in the Boston Marathon this year, Foulds said she will return next year.

Yes, Foulds is an inspiration and an example to the rest of us that we can overcome almost any challenge if we keep the right attitude and believe in ourselves.

She didn’t start out running marathons, Foulds told us.

“It was very short distances at first. It was something like running to a tree and back,” she said. “But it slowly grew over time.”

That’s great advice for everyone.