They passed over the Bay Bridge and walked together, holding hands. Keeping a steady pace, they looked down Route 50 west toward the cloudy horizon.
To most, the stretch of asphalt represents the path back from Ocean City and the beach. To Michel Monnot and Ava Crowder, the busy highway was part of "The Road to Dignity."
Monnot and Crowder both suffer from Parkinson's disease, a brain disorder that occurs when the part of the nervous system that controls movement, balance, posture and walking, is damaged. The primary symptoms of the disease are tremor, stiffness, slowness of movement and difficulty with balance and walking.
But the two didn't let the symptoms hinder them last week, as they walked briskly toward Washington. Together, they drive from city to city, walking five miles each day in "The Road To Dignity Walk 1991," as they work their way up the East Coast from Miami, Fla., to Portland, Maine.
Along the way, they are passing out literature, raising money for the American Parkinson's Disease Association (APDA), and demonstrating the effectiveness of drug treatments. They hope to show the 1.5 million Parkinson's sufferers in America that being diagnosed with the disease does not preclude a productive life.
"Parkinson's is not a deadly thing," said Monnot, a 50-year-old former professor of French from Tucson, Ariz. Monnot made another walk from Minneapolis to Los Angeles for the APDA in 1985, several years after being diagnosed with Parkinson's at age 38. He has authored an autobiographical account, titled "From Rage to Courage," detailing his ongoing struggle with the disorder.
Ava Crowder was first diagnosed with Parkinson's in 1979, when she began having difficulty swallowing and experiencing weakness in her right hand, making it difficult for her to write. Crowder is the official APDAambassador and travels around the country educating the public aboutParkinson's disease.
"It's been wonderful, everything's great. . . . We've had a grueling schedule, but we have gobs of fun," said Crowder, a 68-year-old native of Lubbock, Texas.
Now, just past the halfway point in their trek, the two are excited about their goal of raising $1 million toward a cure to the disease and being reunited with their families this weekend in Washington. The reunion will be a brief respite in a schedule that has shuffled the pair through one- andtwo-night stands in cities between Miami and Salisbury, Wicomico County, their previous stop.
"It's been grueling, there's no questionabout it. These 23-year-olds can hardly stay up with us!" Crowder said of the APDA workers traveling with them.
The pair met Friday with members of the Anne Anne Arundel County Parkinson's Disease Support Group at the Severna Park library to talk about their experiences and the disease.
The walkers are using a daily treatment of Eldepryl (selegiline hydrochloride), a new drug manufactured by Somerset Pharmaceuticals, as an adjunct to traditional therapy with levodopa (L-dopa).
Recent studies indicate that the new drug may retard the disease and allow for long-term relief from Parkinson's symptoms.
Though the new drug is a big step toward normalizing the lives of those with Parkinson's, Crowder and Monnot hope that a cure is found soon and are doing everything they can to further that goal.
"We hope totouch every Parkinsonian we can," says Crowder.
Monnot says he will live a life governed by the "three cardinal virtues of faith, hopeand charity." But while they wait for a cure, they won't be idle. Inone of the brochures the walkers are distributing, Monnot says: "When my walk is over, I want to look at the 1.5 million people in this country with Parkinson's disease and say I've done my best. But it won't be finished until we have a cure."
The Anne Arundel County Parkinson's Disease Support Group sponsors regular meetings at the Severna Park library. For information, contact 956-2951.