Jimmy Choi


Jimmy Choi really needs no introduction in the Parkinson’s Community. But in case you don’t know who he is, he’s a former Ultra Endurance Athlete, 2 World Record holder, and 5 x American Ninja Warrior. He’s also a husband, father, fellow Person with Parkinson’s (PwP), advocate, motivational speaker, and all around great guy.

Jimmy sets the benchmark for using exercise to combat Parkinson’s symptoms. Serving as a shining example of what a PwP is capable of. He has the incredible ability to spark excitement and motivation in others to move more, Parky or not, simply by showing up somewhere. This I learned last week when Jimmy visited the Northern Virginia area where I reside.

When I first learned that Jimmy was coming to the Northern VA area I was, of course excited. When I learned he was coming to hang out with me and a few of my Parky friends, I was highly honored and just off-the-charts thrilled. As the trip firmed up we decided upon a schedule. On Jimmy’s first evening in the area, we were going to do Ninja activities at NovaNinja. The following morning, we were going to go climbing at SportRock with the Parkinson’s specific climbing program there. Finally, myself and a couple of Parky friends were to have dinner with Jimmy the evening before his return flight.

Ninja-ing at NovaNinja

I learned a couple of things about Ninja activities from that first experience on the first evening of Jimmy’s visit. First, it is a total blast. But also, Ninja-ing builds and re-enforces all of the things that Parkinson’s tirelessly works to diminish. Balance, strength, and coordination, are all challenged and reinforced by doing Ninja activities.

The Ninja obstacles we attempted at NovaNinja were very taxing on the body. But they were just as challenging on the mind, requiring both strength AND supreme body control to navigate successfully. The uppermost left-hand photo above, is me attempting a small section of the obstacle course. A series of 3 PVC pipes hanging from chains followed by a small ball also hanging from a chain (all highlighted in red) must be carefully maneuvered in turn. Each obstacle can freely spin about its axis(yellow highlight) and also swing in any direction within 360 degrees (green highlight). Learning how to move one’s body to prevent each obstacle from spinning wildly out of control was a difficult and fun challenge. Read the captions of the all the photos to get a description of just a few of the obstacles encountered in our evening doing Ninja activities.

After the Ninja session, we headed over to a nearby restaurant to grab a quick bite and chat. We talked about our exercise and medication regimens, families, and a lot of normal things that a couple of mid-life dudes discuss. One of the things Jimmy emphasized with us that evening was to strive to be “ok” at everything. Insisting that he himself is just “ok” at many things. He argued that as Parkys, we can’t afford to specialize. We need to challenge ourselves with as much variety as possible to continually maintain the neurological pathways constantly stolen by Parkinson’s. Well, Jimmy is more than just “ok” at many things but his point is well taken.

Climbing at SportRock

Climbing is another activity that is great to counter the effects that Parkinson’s has on balance, strength, and coordination. Also it’s a LOT of fun. The members of of the Parkinson’s community at SportRock, spearheaded by Molly Cupka (formerly Donelan) form a support group of sorts for like-minded Parkys. When we learned that Jimmy Choi was going to visit us there was a whole new level of excitement.

We always have a good time in the climbing gym, but with Jimmy in the house, the environment was electric. Normally 1 hour in length, the well-attended climbing session was two hours to allow ample time for everyone to climb and socialize with the special guest. Not surprisingly, Jimmy was pretty good at climbing. It was an amazing experience to watch him complete a difficult route, then to attempt to do the same with Jimmy encouragingly heckling. Everyone who was there that day came away energized, with a renewed enthusiasm for movement generally. Really, I think the positive impact of Jimmy’s visit that day can’t be over-stated. It was quite simply…amazing.

The Dinner

There are very few cases when I would take workout clothes to a dinner party. When I am heading to Paul Cluff’s house would be one. But especially so when Jimmy Choi is going to be there. It turned out that I made the right decision. It wasn’t long before we were in the basement participating in one of Paul’s excellent regular evening workout sessions. One of several zoom workout sessions that Paul puts on throughout the week as part of his not-for-profit Can’t Shake Me (CSM).

The author (foreground), Jimmy, and Paul. Vivek as cameraman with the bum back.

The four of us talked long into the evening over an excellent meal of lasagna and salad prepared by the host. We all had a lot of questions for Jimmy. He explained how he deals with the stress of constantly being the center of attention. He talked about his dealings with members of congress in his advocacy efforts. He explained the state of the treatment development pipeline for Parkinson’s. Jimmy seemingly knows at least a little about just about everything. Really the only thing he didn’t have a good answer for is when I jokingly asked him if he had ever failed at anything.

I guess answering that question would be about it.

What I learned about Jimmy is that despite everything he has accomplished, how exceptional he is, he’s a really relatable guy. The man clearly is a devoted husband and father. He has the same hopes and dreams for his children, talented as they are, as anyone else. At one point or another during the evening, each of us got a chance to tell our story, talk about what we do for a living, and take a few jabs at white guy’s.*

When the evening inevitably ended, we all said our goodbye’s and departed. I was struck by how energizing the preceding few days were. I realized that, more than likely, one of Jimmy’s objectives for his visit was to instill a renewed excitement for movement in his fellow Parkys. On this point, I believe Jimmy managed to come away with a resounding success.

*not really. I was actually making most of the white-guy wise-cracks that night.

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