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In March 2017, Lois Leslie and Paul Gully set out to cycle across three continents to raise funds and awareness for Parkinson’s disease, in honour of their dear friend, Marg de Grace.

This trip was intended to complete a circumnavigation of the globe by bicycle, begun with an earlier cycle across Canada in 2013. Their route would take them through southern Europe, across Turkey and the Caucasus, India, Southeast Asia, China, South Korea, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand.

Korea

Paul & Lois in Korea

The ride was soon put on hold after Paul was hit by a car when cycling from Sanremo on the Via Aurelia in Italy, on May 10, 2017. He suffered a cracked vertebra, broken ribs, pneumothoraces, numerous cuts and abrasions, and severe nerve pain in his shoulders and arms. Thanks to the fantastic care of the trauma team in Pietra Ligure, Paul was able to make an almost full recovery, after just five months of recuperation back home in Vancouver.

On October 2, the pair were back en route, starting where they left off, in Pietra Ligure. Their mode of transportation changed while Paul was still in recovery. The journey continued on foot, train, and bus, through Italy, Austria, Eastern Europe, Greece, and Cyprus. After Christmas in France with family, the couple celebrated the New Year in Dubai, followed by a month in India.

Viseu Portugal

Lois & Paul in Viseu, Portugal

At the end of January 2018, Paul and Lois interrupted their tour of India to return to Vancouver when Lois’ 97-year-old mother passed away. A few short weeks later, on March 20, 2018, Marg, who inspired the fundraiser, died suddenly.

With heavy hearts, but renewed determination, Lois and Paul embarked on their journey once again, back on their bicycles this time. They completed a ride through South Korea, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand, and are now back home in time for the holidays.

Lois and Paul raised nearly $16,000 for Parkinson Society British Columbia.


Can you tell us a bit about your friend, Marg de Grace, and her journey with PD?

Marg was one of Lois’ dearest friends. They met in high school in Prince George, and remained close for life. Marg was diagnosed with PD in 1993 at the Movement Disorders Clinic at UBC. She was then 46 years old, married, with two little girls, and a demanding job as the Emergency Planning Coordinator for Vancouver General Hospital. [ Read Marg’s story here. ]

Why did you decide to use this trip to raise awareness and funds for Parkinson’s?

We had already decided we wanted to cycle around the world, which began with our cycle across Canada in 2013, and through Britain in 2015. We had not linked our previous trips to fundraising for any particular cause, but decided we should do so this time. The choice of PD was easy, as we were witnessing first-hand the effects of PD on Marg and her family.

We discussed with Marg and her husband, Allan, which organization we should support. Marg felt quite strongly that any money raised should go to PSBC, as she had personally benefitted from the programs and services that PSBC offers, and felt that community programming is a critical element in maintaining independence and quality of life for persons with PD. This was confirmed when we talked to people as we cycled through different countries.

Amalfi Coast Italy

Lois & Paul on the Amalfi Coast, Italy

Can you tell us about the people you met on your trip?

We met so many wonderful people. A few stand out. There was one couple who ran a delightful bed and breakfast, Au Puits de la Fontaine, in Tavernes, Provence – they greeted us with tea, drove us to a local restaurant, and sat with us at breakfast, discussing our travels and PD. They followed us on our blog, and sent encouragement to Paul following his accident.

Then there was Jane Gow, a Parkinson’s advocate and volunteer in Coff’s Harbour, Australia, who set up, and now coordinates the local PD support group. The group, which includes 126 families, has been able to hire a part-time PD nurse to assist persons with PD in navigating the healthcare system. Jane, whose husband has PD, took time out of her busy day to meet with us, and insisted on making a contribution to PSBC!

We were also grateful for the time given to us by the physicians and staff of two clinics we visited: the Campus Neurlógico Sénior in Torres Vedra, Portugal, and Ospedale Classificato Morigia Pelascini in Gravedona, Italy. These institutions emphasize the importance of rehabilitation and health promotion in support of people with PD and their families. They also provide teaching for local healthcare providers.

Lois and Paul did an interview about their trip for SIC Noticias in Lisbon. Watch here.

What was your favourite leg of the journey?

We had so many great experiences! Portugal was one of our favourite places, as neither of us had been there before, and it was the beginning of our trip. Lisbon was fascinating. We loved the food, wines, architecture, Fado music, and friendliness of the people. Despite all the hills, it was great cycling through the countryside. Even in the smallest towns, we consistently found excellent espresso!

Venice

Paul & Lois in Venice, Italy

You certainly are espresso aficionados – did you find the perfect espresso on this trip?

We did! We definitely have high espresso standards, so this is not always an easy quest, but we managed to find very good espresso in many countries (France not being one of them, despite its reputation as a café culture!). The perfect espresso was probably in Lisbon at Bettina & Niccolo Corallo, but we also found 9/10+ (Paul’s subjective rating!) in Italy, Austria, Hungary, and the small coastal town of Crescent Head, in Australia.

You faced many hardships along your journey. How did you manage to overcome these, and continue your trip?

The biggest hardship we faced was when Paul was hit by a car in Italy and suffered a spinal injury. This experience was obviously terrifying for both of us, and Paul had significant pain and discomfort for some time afterwards. It also meant an interruption of our trip so soon after we had begun, which was very frustrating. However, we were both so relieved and grateful that the outcome was not worse. When Paul was able to make an almost complete recovery, resuming the trip was automatic. We are both conscious that life is short and precious, as Marg has shown us, and we very much wanted to complete what we had begun. At first, we carried on by foot and public transport, returning to our bikes one year after the accident.

Do you have any message for others who have a loved one with Parkinson’s in their lives? For people wishing to support by fundraising or awareness building?

As is so often the case when you decide to do something like this, the personal benefits are often greater than whatever contribution you might make. It was very gratifying to be able to plan the fundraising with Marg and participate, if only in a small way, in something that was such a profound part of her life. This was important for Lois. We also learned a lot about PD and were inspired by the stories of volunteers and family members who work to keep people with PD active and independent in their homes and communities. Most of all, we were inspired by Marg, who never let herself be defined by PD, and showed us all how to live a life with courage and grace.

What do you wish people knew about Parkinson’s disease?

We would like people to know how prevalent PD is; how it affects the lives of people with PD and their families and friends; how more attention, and more funding, needs to be directed to supporting people with PD to continue to live full and meaningful lives.