Raising awareness about Parkinson's disease

Several events planned, including annual 5K

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Jennifer Otero knows better than most how Parkinson’s Disease can affect a family. Her mother was struck with the disease. While Otero saw the suffering that Parkinson’s inflicts on those afflicted with the disease, she also saw the importance of the caretakers and organizations who care for patients and she felt the need to do something to help them.

“There are a lot of people affected by Parkinson’s,” Otero said. “When my mom got the disease, I thought we were alone. I’m trying to advocate awareness.”

That’s where the First Coast Parkinson’s Run was born. This year, the run begins at 9 a.m. April 22 at Riverside Park with both a 5K and a 1-mile fun run scheduled. A total of 750 runners participated last year and Otero expects at least as many this year. She also said she hopes to spread awareness about younger patients who are affected by the disease.

“Probably the biggest groups of people who are being missed are the onset Parkinson’s patients,” Otero said. “Everyone is used to it being an older person’s disease. It’s not.”

The event is now in its fourth year and has raised nearly $50,000 in support of local Parkinson’s patients and caregivers while increasing awareness in the community. This year, the event has grown to include a kickoff party for a cross-country bike trek by Matt Barbaccia, who will spend 75 days riding from Jacksonville Beach to Santa Rosa, California. to raise awareness and funding for Parkinson’s disease research. His ride begins with a kickoff party from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday at Lynch’s Irish Pub.

Those wanting to register for the run can do so online at www.firstcoastparkinsonsrun.com or www.ride4parkinsons.com.