Losing two grandparents on separate sides of her family to Parkinson’s disease pushed University of Colorado Boulder academic advisor Makenna Schluter to commit to helping find a cure.
On Sunday, her contribution will be 26.2 miles of running through the streets of London with thousands of others.
Schluter, 31, was selected as one of eight top runners to raise money for the Michael J. Fox Foundation, which funds Parkinson’s research, by running this year’s London Marathon.
When she first applied to be part of Team Fox, though, she, like some of the Buffs she helps navigate the university’s course catalog, was wait-listed. But Schluter eventually got the call that a spot had opened up, and she seized the opportunity.
“My grandpa on my dad’s side of the family had Parkinson’s disease,” Schluter said. “My grandma on my mom’s side of my family also had it. It impacted my parents, their siblings, their cousins. My grandpa was diagnosed in 1988. I was born in 1987. I only knew him with Parkinson’s disease.”
Her grandma died April 11, 2016, which was World Parkinson’s Day, and her grandpa died in 2004.
Parkinson’s is a neurodegenerative disorder that affects people’s dopamine-producing neurons, often causing tremors and limb rigidity, though the onset of symptoms varies from one person to another. More than 10 million people across the world are living with the disease, which itself is not fatal but can cause serious complications, according to Parkinson.org.
“I didn’t even know that so many people are experiencing Parkinson’s, I just knew it only from the perspective that I had two family members with it. … My grandpa, he was really into research, as well,” Schluter said, explaining that even when he was living in a nursing home he used its library to look up the latest treatments and trials for the disease and would ask his doctors if he might be a good match for them.
She feels she is helping to carry on his will to fight the disease by running to help finance further research for treatments, and perhaps a cure. So far, Schluter has raised more than $7,300 of her $7,500 goal, and is paying out of pocket to get to London and back. You can donate to support Schluter’s marathon and Parkinson’s research at bit.ly/2ZCmPxY. Combined, she and her fellow Team Fox runners have raised more than $46,000.
Sunday will be Schluter’s third marathon — she has also gone the 26.2-mile distance in Fargo, N.D. and in the Twin Cities Marathon in her home state of Minnesota, though this marathon will be her first since 2016.
She is shooting for a personal record, a four-hour finish, in London. She is confident her endurance will be boosted on flatland after training at Boulder’s altitude since she moved here in July. She admitted she asked her doctor shortly her move if she had developed asthma and learned she was only feeling the effects of the thinner air.
Her mom, Tami Schluter, whose mother had Parkinson’s, will be tracking her daughter’s finish through a mobile app as soon as she wakes up in Minnesota on Sunday.
“It’s a big deal to us,” Tami Schluter said of her daughter running the race. “I’m a mom, I’m proud. For her, it’s really hit home personally.”
This is the first time Makenna Schluter has supported a Parkinson’s fundraising effort in a run — she didn’t take up the hobby until adulthood, instead playing golf in high school, her mom said.
Makenna Schluter is hoping to leave it all on the course in London, unsure if she will ever notch a qualifying time for any of the other Big Six marathons — Berlin, Tokyo, Boston, New York and Chicago.
Although she won’t have much time to enjoy London after the race, as she is returning the United States on Monday, she hopes to take a double-decker bus trip around the city with her partner and take a Jack the Ripper tour with a friend who is coming along.
But she will be back in the United Kingdom — in Ireland — this summer for a family trip to watch The Open golf tournament, Tami Schluter said.
“To run for a cause that has impacted my family is even more awesome,” Makenna Schluter said.