Deena C. Bouknight – Contributing Writer
Last Thursday, May 30, drivers traversing Hwy 64 heading west toward Murphy or east from Murphy to Franklin may have noticed a group of cyclists in neon orange shirts. Headed by Bethany Richards, the group started their P4P Across NC trek in Murphy and plans to end up in Atlantic Beach in a few weeks.
When Richards learned her father, Michael Richards, now 72, was diagnosed eight years ago with Parkinson’s disease (PD), she wanted to do something.
While she was a competitive runner for many years, she was not interested in cycling. But running injuries motivated Richards to take up cycling as a lower impact activity. Plus, her father – even though challenged by his disease – is a cyclist.
So the retired fire fighter decided to put a painted box on her bike that reads: “Pedaling for Parkinson’s.” A few years ago she began pedaling to a part-time job and to shop in downtown New Bern, where she resides. People would put change and bills in her box – or they would stop and ask her about Parkinson’s disease. Every three months, she donated the collected money to the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s disease research. Actor Fox, best known for his role as Marty McFly in the Back to the Future trilogy, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 1991 at age 29 and eventually established a foundation focused on research and finding a cure.
“In just four years I have raised over $50,000. My goal is to pedal to every small town USA, spreading awareness and raising money to support people in the community with PD and to help fund research to eliminate PD,” said Richards.
A main goal, however, has been to P4P Across NC – her home state. “We wanted to go as far west as possible to start our mountains to the sea route, so we started in Murphy. It’s just a beautiful state to see – especially this way. We don’t want to just blow through the state. We want to stop and meet people and talk to them about Parkinson’s disease.”
She formally established The Bike Box Project as a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization so she could dedicate an organization to raising funds primarily to address the local needs of people with PD and for Parkinson’s research. For example, money raised supports a tandem bike program in New Bern. However, a portion of donations is also sent regularly to the Michael J. Fox Foundation.
More than five million people worldwide have Parkinson’s disease. According to the Parkinson’s Foundation, PD is a “neurodegenerative disorder that affects predominately dopamine-producing (“dopaminergic”) neurons in a specific area of the brain called substantia nigra. Symptoms generally develop slowly over years.” Symptoms might include: tremors, limb rigidity, and gait and balance problems.
Richards said her father stays active cycling and is involved in the events she organizes for The Bike Box Project.
“This trip is really about just being out here and doing this for Parkinson’s disease,” said Richards, who is accompanied on the P4P Across NC by her husband, Doug Townshend, also a retired fire fighter, and friend, Mindy Boeck. Glen Taylor is the group’s logistics director, and along the route Richards “picks up” cyclists who have learned about The Bike Box Project and want to do a “leg” of the trip.
Franklin was the first stop for the group. They visited local breweries and were accommodated in a cabin owned by Mayor Bob Scott and his wife Nancy.
Supporters can follow the group’s progress on The Bike Box Project Pedaling for Parkinson’s on Facebook.