In the Loop

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November 19, 2019

Steve Grinnell: Staying Ahead of Parkinson’s Disease One Ping Pong Game at a Time

By In the Loop
Photo courtesy of Glen Randmer
Photo courtesy of Glen Randmer

Since being diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, Steve Grinnell has worked hard to stay active, stepping up his table tennis game and, thanks to co-workers, testing his skills outside his home.


Four years ago, Steve Grinnell's life was forever changed when doctors at Mayo Clinic in Rochester diagnosed him with early-onset Parkinson's disease. Since that time, the progressive nervous system disorder has begun to take a toll on Steve and his family, just as it does on the millions of other Americans living with the disease. "It has greatly diminished his quality of life, leaving him with tremors, physical exhaustion, impaired balance, troubled grasping things with his right hand, slow right-arm movement and problems sleeping," the Rochester Post-Bulletin recently reported. "That's to name just a few of his symptoms."

Reading that, one might assume the disorder is winning. And to Steve, sometimes it feels like it is. But much of the time, he tells us he also feels like he's staying one step ahead of the disease by staying as physically active as possible. "Parkinson's presents such a conundrum because it wears you down physically, and yet exercise is so valuable," Steve says. "My legs, feet and right arm are always cramping, so it takes mental effort to get moving."

As the P-B reports, however, Steve, an education specialist in Mayo's Biochemical Genetics Lab, is working to find new activities to replace those he can no longer enjoy. Activities like table tennis, a game Steve enjoyed playing as a kid. "That's why ping pong balls can so often be heard bouncing in his house, Steve taking on sons Grahame and Griffin almost daily in table tennis," P-B sports reporter Pat Ruff writes.

For Steve, the matches have become as much for his family as him. "I don't know what the future holds for me," he tells Ruff. "But I want to be able to spend as much time with my wife and kids as I can. With some people, Parkinson's is very progressive, and with others it is very slow. But one thing that can help you is staying active. It tends to slow that progression down."

It was with that in mind that Steve boarded a flight to Pleasantville, New York, last month to compete in the first annual International Table Tennis Federation's Parkinson's World Table Tennis Championship tournament. It was his co-workers, "after getting wind that such a tournament existed," who made sure he would be there, the P-B reports. They "generously funded much of his trip" to the tournament, including paying for his plane ticket. So Steve boarded that flight despite his fears that he'd be "badly out-matched" by the other competitors, knowing he had a cheering section back at home. "They rallied around him, as did his wife, Jennifer, and Steve's parents, who also pitched in," Ruff writes. "All of them wanted Grinnell to take advantage of this opportunity."

And although Steve came home without notching any tournament victories, the experience itself was very much a win. "It was so good to commiserate with people going through the same stuff," he tells the Post-Bulletin. "Being with them, it validated what I am going through, seeing others with the same symptoms."

Not only that, but Steve tells us it's also motivated him to try to create that same kind of support, and competition, back home. "I am currently working on developing a Ping Pong Parkinson's group here in Rochester," Steve says.

You can read more about Steve here. Then go ahead and serve up your best comments below (backspin optional) before using the handy social media tools to share this story with others.


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Tags: Department of Neurology, Employee Stories, Parkinson's disease, Steve Grinnell

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