When Michel Monnot was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease six years ago, he decided to take a walk.
This stroll took him and Ava Crowder, who also has Parkinson's disease, along with more than 20 other people through Baltimore yesterday as part of the "Road to Dignity," a journey that will take them from Florida to Maine.
"In order not to lose my mind by doing nothing, I decided to do something," said Mr. Monnot, 51, of Tucson, Ariz., who has walked five miles in each city he visited along the East Coast since May 11. "I thought it would be a good idea, and I also enjoy walking."
The walkers began at 11 a.m. yesterday at the Stouffer Harborplace Hotel and walked to Johns Hopkins Hospital, which has a Parkinson's Disease Center.
The mayor's office presented Mr. Monnot and Mrs. Crowder with a citation proclaiming yesterday "Parkinson's Disease Awareness Day."
But all the pomp did not diminish their goal of making people aware of Parkinson's disease, a brain disorder which affects more than 1 million Americans. The average age of those afflicted is 50.
"We can walk forever and a day, but we need to make people understand that funds are needed to continue researching a cure," said Mrs. Crowder, of Lubbock, Texas, who said she was in her "mid-50s."
fTC Mr. Monnot, who introduced the project to the American Parkinson Disease Association with a walk from Minneapolis to Los Angeles in 1985, agreed.
"Educating the public and raising funds is the main feature," he said.
Although Mrs. Crowder, the national ambassador of the American Parkinson's Disease Association, and Mr. Monnot occasionally shake, shuffle and have difficulty speaking because their disease, they said the walk will demonstrate that people with Parkinson's can overcome its sometimes debilitating symptoms.
"I was in the closet for about five years after I was diagnosed because I didn't want anyone to know about it," said Mrs. Crowder, who had to leave her job as an industrial engineer for the Department of Defense when she was diagnosed. "But even tually I grew to accept it and knew I had to start to live again."
Mr. Monnot, who is in the advanced stages of the disease, was unable to keep his job as a French professor at Carleton College in Northfield, Minn., but still enjoys playing soccer.
Dr. Stephen Reich, co-director of the Parkinson's center at the hospital, said the public often exaggerates the effects of the disease.
"Lay perception of the disease is far worse than the disease actually is. People think that once someone has been diagnosed with it, life is over," said Dr. Reich, who participated in the walk. "For some, it is very debilitating, but for the average Parkinsonian, the disease just slows things down."
But no matter how slow things get, Mrs. Crowder is determined to walk the last mile optimistically.
"They say with Parkinson's, you either get bitter or you get better," she said. "Well, I'm getting better, and I intend to keep on getting better every day until the cure comes."
For more information on coping with Parkinson's disease, call 1-800-TRI-PATH or 1-800-223-APDA.