What started off as a way to see the world has transformed into a way to bring Parkinson’s disease into the world’s consciousness.
Marcus Cranston, a doctor of endocrinology and a colonel at Nellis Air Force Base, had a desire to visit countries he’d never seen. He also had a new passion, furthering research into Parkinson’s disease, after he was diagnosed in 2010.
The Summerlin resident first noticed a tremor in his right hand that came and went. He wrote it off to stress until his wife, Lila Asnani, remarked on it. The second time she pointed it out, he knew it was time to see a doctor. The diagnosis was irrefutable: Parkinson’s.
“The most difficult thing was losing control,” he said of being diagnosed. “As a physician, I know what the options are, how to prescribe care … as a patient, you can’t order the lab test, you can’t order the medication. I felt dependent on someone else. It was a helpless feeling.”
To battle that feeling, Cranston contacted Parkinson’s organizations. As a longtime runner, he entered marathons to raise funds for research. He attended the World Parkinson Congress in Montreal last October.
He’d planned to use his frequent flier miles to travel the world when he retired at 44. Now, he mapped out 44 countries, determined he would run 4 miles in each, all in the name of fighting Parkinson’s, and all done within four weeks. He set out on April 4.
Some of the countries included Nepal, Mongolia, Japan, Brunei, Macedonia, Tunisia, Iceland and Sri Lanka. In planning the trip, Cranston learned to make his frequent flier flights stretch farther by requesting destinations in the same sector. However, this resulted in a zigzag pattern that could require him to rise at 4 a.m. or sleep on the plane.
“By most people’s standards, these would be horrible flights,” he said, “but I was like, ‘Yeah, four countries in four days.’ ”
One day, he ticked off three countries. Cranston ran barefoot on the beach in Fiji and Sri Lanka and in traffic in Vietnam and Croatia. In Singapore, he ran on a track and through parks in Malaysia, Iceland and Finland. He used hostels to keep costs down.
A friend, Clark Trimmer, helped Cranston set up the project with input from Team Fox of the Michael J. Fox Foundation. Trimmer has a close family friend who was diagnosed five years ago.
“The problem is that the stigma of Parkinson’s gets in the way of the belief that they can do things to decrease the effect of the disease,” Trimmer said. “I was inspired to get involved with Marc’s project because it helped to chip away at that stigma.”
Before leaving the states, Cranston contacted Parkinson’s groups in the countries he’d be visiting. Then he turned to social media, starting a blog, 444parkinsonstraveler.org, that he updated throughout his journey. He also has a Facebook page, facebook.com/444parkinsonstraveler, and a Twitter feed, @444Parkinsons.
His quest gained attention in nearly every country he visited. Different Parkinson’s chapters and the press were notified in advance of his arrival, resulting in Cranston being on television. Up to 70 supporters joined him on his 4-mile runs. In Slovenia, he met the president and Olympic athletes.
Every country held its own special moments. Cranston recalled a little boy in Petra, Jordan, near the pyramids, with a board on which he displayed trinkets and rocks for tourists to buy. In Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, he ran past houses peppered with bullet holes. In Albania, he met a Parkinson’s patient who spent more than half of his $250 monthly pension on medication.
Most people “travel somewhere and stay a week, they come home and go, ‘OK, I’ve been there,’ and they mark it off,” he said. “For me … it was like points on the globe. I feel like I have a better appreciation (for cultures around) the globe.”
His final international run was in London, a nod to James Parkinson, who wrote the first paper on the disease and for whom it was named. Cranston’s final leg was May 6 on the Strip. His destination was the Stratosphere. It was a last-minute addition after political riots forced him to cancel his run in Thailand.
Trimmer said it was inspiring to see one person bring global attention to the fight against the disease.
“The way technology shapes our lives today, any one of us can help create more awareness for Parkinson’s,” Trimmer said. “Marc, though, is the perfect messenger for spreading awareness of the disease and treatments. He’s an active member of the Air Force, a doctor, an athlete and just a naturally positive person. Based upon his athletic abilities, you would never guess that he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s. We should all try to live by his example.”
What’s next for the 48-year-old Cranston?
“My 50th birthday is coming up, so I think about things like 50 5Ks in five weeks, one in each of the 50 states, or something like that,” he said. “Somehow, I’ll get those fives together.”
Contact Summerlin Area View reporter Jan Hogan at email@example.com or 702-387-2949.