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Adam van Koeverden is known as a world-class kayaker; a four-time Olympic medallist – including gold at the 2004 Games in Athens; and an eight-time world championship medallist.
He's less known but equally passionate in his advocacy for Parkinson's disease research and awareness.
Adam's father, Joe van Koeverden, was diagnosed with Parkinson's four years ago. Adam says the diagnosis was a shock to his family, who had already dealt with Joe's colon cancer diagnosis 12 years prior.
"When he was diagnosed with Parkinson's, we threw our hands up. We thought maybe he was the least lucky guy in the world," says Adam.
Although Parkinson's disease affects people in a number of different ways, Adam says his father is fortunate to have full use of his limbs, hands and feet, as well as only a minor tremor and unaffected speech.
"We're hoping with the best treatment options and the best care, he'll stay that way."
He says he and his father used to go to fundraisers for colon cancer, and that he encouraged his father to join him in doing the same for Parkinson's. It was through their involvement in local fundraising events that they met Harry McMurtry, who on Monday is set to complete the 500 Miles for Parkinson's walk from New York to Toronto with an event at Queen's Park. Part of the money raised during the walk is going to the movement disorders clinic at Toronto Western Hospital, where both Harry and Adam's father have been treated.
Adam, who is training for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio, will join his dad at a gala to celebrate Harry's walk on Wednesday in Toronto. The celebrated kayaker says the walk is an incredibly physical feat for Harry, who is affected by a tremor. Adam compares the journey to Terry Fox's Marathon of Hope for cancer research in 1980.
500 Miles for Parkinson's "final mile" events on Monday
10:15 a.m.: Harry and team assemble at the corner of Front and York Streets for the final leg of the walk, which then heads up University Avenue to Queen Street.
10:45 a.m.: Arrival at Osgoode Hall, where there will be bagpipers and a meet-and-greet until just after 11 a.m.
11:10 a.m.: Final mile leaves Osgoode Hall around 11:10 a.m. and heads up University to Queen's Park for the closing ceremony at noon.
Noon: Speeches at Queen's Park, including by Premier Kathleen Wynne and the Krembil Neuroscience Centre Dr. Renato Munhoz
"He's a great athlete, but a 500-mile walk is a crazy undertaking for anybody," Adam says of Harry, a former litigation lawyer and graduate of Queen's University. "He wants to leave a legacy, and he's certainly an amazing champion for people with Parkinson's."
"My dad really looks up to him as somebody who's outspoken and really uses all his energy to devote himself to that singular cause."
Adam plans to take a break from training for the Olympic Games to attend a wrap-up gala on Wednesday at Steam Whistle brewery.
The cause is all the more important to Adam because of his father and people they've met since becoming active members of the Parkinson's community in Toronto. He encourages people to come out to events like this one because he says being a part of that community brings a human component to the cause.
"I'm not supporting Parkinson's disease; I'm supporting people with Parkinson's disease. I want the best quality of life for all those individuals," he said.
"I want to be able to throw a football with my dad, and I want him to be able to throw it back to me."