When Edina resident Liz Ogren was first diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2007, she fell into a spell of lethargy, sitting on couches and following her doctor’s advice to “keep her stress level down.”
But the 44-year-old mother of two, a fifth-grade teacher at Hopkins' Glen Lake Elementary, soon realized that she had to keep active to fight the disease.
“I had an initial reaction of checking out a little bit, which is not uncommon,” she said, “but then I got fiery and fighty and kind of snotty about the disease and said, ‘I’m not going to let it take me down.’”
With the help of her brother, Ogren developed a physical fitness regimen, working out daily and taking up cycling again.
“My brother would call and ask if I wanted to go to the gym and I would say ‘No, I’m tired. Maybe later,’” she said. “Ten minutes later he would be at my door asking, ‘Is it later now?’”
In 2011, Ogren founded Pedal and Roll for Parkinson’s, a non-profit that hosts group rides and helps Parkinson’s patients get started on customized bikes—trikes and side-by-side “Quadribent” tandems.
“Parkinson’s patients have poor balance and poor reaction time and poor coordination and poor sensing of where their body is in space,” Ogren said. “To keep them safe on the bike, you want the bike to be as stable as possible.”
This Saturday, Ogren will head to Eden Prairie to accept a “Local Hero” award from the Davis Phinney Foundation for her work with Pedal and Roll and other Parkinson’s support groups.
Pedal and Roll, which has a roughly $5,000 per year budget, has partnered with Minnetonka’s recreation center to create a “bicycle library,” where people with movement disorders can check out the custom bikes and trikes.
“Parkinson’s can be sort of isolating because your facial features and your vocal features are stiff,” Ogren said. “The bikes bring people together and help people still feel like they’re part of the world and part of the community and part of humanity.”
“The best visual example is an empty wheelchair and a person on a bike laughing, biking on a tandem with their spouse, or a person who gives up their walker and says, ‘I want to get on that bike and ride,’ but they can’t get from where they left the walker to where the bike is so, they need an arm to get there.”
Ogren said she was surprised to receive the Davis Phinney award.“I don’t really think I’ve done much,” she said. “I’ve always wanted to build bridges between people and this isn’t the way I thought I’d be building them, but this is the way it’s happening.”