Allen D. Martin first noticed that his handwriting was shaky.
A teacher, Martin could still write on a blackboard because it was bigger, but he struggled with pen and paper.
Those small tremors proved to be the first symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.
Parkinson’s is a neurodegenerative disease that causes people to gradually lose control of their muscles. Tremors are the best-known symptom, but Parkinson’s also causes stiffness of the muscles, a shuffling gait and stooped posture, soft speech and fatigue, among others.
When thousands of people lace up their shoes for the annual SuperWalk for Parkinson’s this weekend, they’re walking for Allen and the 100,000 other Canadians living with the disease.
Parkinson’s is both chronic and progressive, which means it is long-lasting and gradually gets worse. From his diagnosis in 1992, the disease has slowly crept into all aspects of Martin’s life.
“Some days are good days, and other days I’m too tired to do anything,” he said.
Martin was a career teacher, teaching a few years at Salem Public School in Elora and John Mahood in Elmira before moving to Linwood Public School.
Martin enjoyed working with the David Martin Mennonite population at Linwood, starting up an industrial arts program in a portable classroom with power tools from his own shop. He also launched the annual sports day for the Mennonite children who couldn’t go on the class trip.
Martin’s tenure at Linwood stretched into three decades, years he fully enjoyed. But in 1995, he was forced to cut back to teaching part-time. Three years later, Martin retired. He also retired from the Floradale Fire Department – another 30-year post – at the same time, which proved to be a mistake: with nothing to do, he sometimes felt useless and struggled with depression.
“That was a bad move,” he said. “If I had to do it over again, I’d do it differently.”
A few years later he lost his driver’s licence, which was a blow to his independence. He had always been the person who drove cancer patients to their appointments; now he had to be driven to appointments of his own.
Eventually, he was forced to give up writing his weekly column for the Observer, “From My Side of the Dam.”
Martin’s nephew, Brian Jantzi, was the first editor of the paper and Allen got involved in the early days as a proofreader. From there he started his own column and kept it up for the next eight years.
“People say I should go back and write again,” he said.
Even after eight years, he hadn’t run out of ideas, but the typing had become too difficult. He has toyed with the idea of collecting his columns into a book, but it remains just an idea.
While the Parkinson’s has forced them to give up a lot, Allen and his wife Pauline have adapted. Three years ago, they moved from Floradale to Elmira, to a smaller house with fewer of the stairs that had become increasingly difficult. Moving to Elmira also means they see more of their two daughters and two granddaughters who live in town.
Living in Elmira has given Allen back a measure of independence. He can get around by himself on his motorized scooter, covering the distance from home to downtown in a little less than 20 minutes, and he’s a regular at the Sip and Bite restaurant.
Martin has also continued collecting model fire trucks, a hobby of more than 25 years. The majority of his 200 pieces, ranging from a few inches to a few feet long, are still in the basement, but he’s planning to add more shelving space in the living room to bring them out of storage.
The disease also hasn’t prevented him from travelling with Pauline, who drove a school bus for many years and now drives a tour bus. Allen has travelled with her as far afield as Myrtle Beach, Minnesota and the Smoky Mountains.
“He had a lot of dreams that he didn’t get to do,” Pauline said, “but we’ve kept pretty busy and he could go with some of [the trips] so he hasn’t just sat around.”