A Discussion with Tim Hague

A Discussion with Tim Hague

Tim Hague is a public speaker, educator and advocate for people living with Parkinson’s disease (PD). At just 46 years old, Hague was diagnosed with young onset Parkinson’s disease. Three years later, he and his son, Tim Jr., won the inaugural season of the TV reality adventure competition, The Amazing Race Canada. In the aftermath of that victory, he became an ambassador of the Parkinson’s community, speaking about his experiences to audiences worldwide and starting U-Turn Parkinson’s, a charity based in Winnipeg, Canada to promote wellness in PD.

Tim recently wrote a book, entitled Perseverance, which is the story of his life, starting out as an adopted, mixed-race baby in Texas in the 1960s and growing up in a large and loving family. As an adult, he moved to Canada, started a family of his own, became a nurse and worked in the medical field for twenty years before his PD diagnosis. Tim uses experiences in his life and specifically experiences from The Amazing Race Canada to teach valuable life lessons that we can all learn from.

In order to celebrate Tim’s strength and optimism, anyone who donates $35 dollars or more to APDA, will receive a copy of his inspiring book.

I had the wonderful opportunity to talk with Tim recently about his life, his new book and his journey. Here are edited excerpts from the interview:

What made you take the huge step of writing down your life story in book form?

After The Amazing Race, I started public speaking about my experiences and I was really enjoying it. I started asking other professional speakers about the steps needed to keep doing it. I was told that if I wanted to stay in the field, I needed a website and I needed a book. That sounded daunting, but I knew I had a story to tell.

When I started to write, I realized that I didn’t have a clue what I was doing. After a few years, I had 30,000 words thrown on a paper and it wasn’t going anywhere. I was advised to get a book coach who helped me put the book together. We got some chapters done and we were making our way.

Then, Jody Mitic, a fellow competitor on The Amazing Race with me, who had lost his legs in Afghanistan, wrote a book picked up by Simon and Schuster. He connected me with his agent who agreed to represent me. And we ended up getting an offer from the largest publisher in Canada, Penguin Random House Canada. I never, ever dreamt that that would happen. Never.

As I began to explore my own story and research it, I began to see that perseverance was there all along. I saw it in my birth Mom – twenty years old, finding herself in the situation that she did. What would that take – the courage, the strength, the will to persevere, to walk that journey, pretty much alone and to give me a shot at life. I look at my parents, who not only had their three kids, but adopted me and five more. Nine kids of your own race would be a challenge, a story of perseverance. Throw in a bunch of mixed-race kids in the 60s, 70s and 80s and there is a genuine story of perseverance. The theme of perseverance took shape as I worked through the process.

When you started speaking after The Amazing Race, how did you get that first speaking opportunity?

An organization called Parkinson’s Canada called me right after the race and asked me to speak at the World Parkinson’s Congress in Montreal.  I had no clue what the World Parkinson’s Congress was, but I said that I would be interested. I was put on the schedule as a surprise speaker and was given five minutes to speak. I put my talk together and flew out to Montreal, and that five minutes, blew up my world. Because of that five minutes, I have a speaking career now. It has literally taken me around the world.

What is the most unusual place that your speaking career has taken you so far?

I would say, Madrid, Spain. But my most fun talk was in Florida.  If a speaker can ever come close to having a rock-star moment, this was it. It was in a round theater, with massive TV screens – whole walls that were televisions.  I came out to The Amazing Race Canada theme song, blaring. They told me to run out, and when I did the audience was going berserk, like truly, crazy, cheering and clapping. I did my thing and literally walked away feeling like a rock star.

What do you typically talk about in your presentations?

Most of my speaking engagements combine The Amazing Race, Parkinson’s and how to live your best. Whether in a business context, or a school context, or a Parkinson’s context.

In the end, looking back, in what part of The Amazing Race competition did your Parkinson’s get most in the way?

Fatigue was a huge factor. During leg 4 of the race, I had to climb up a hill at the end of the day. I probably would have gotten to the top of the hill eventually, but we came in second place that day.  I am convinced that the only reason we came in second was because Tim Jr., let me grab his coat and he literally pulled me up that hill. The other ongoing issue was walking or running downhill or downstairs which was a challenge for me because my left foot would sometimes catch. I would try to hurry, but anything faster than a walk and my left foot would catch. It almost threw me over a couple of times.

What was the most enjoyable challenge for you during the competition?

The ice sculpting was kind of cool. But the one that was freakiest to everyone else was probably one of my favorites, to tell you the truth. I was walking a plank off a train bridge in Kolowna, British Columbia.  I was standing on this train bridge and it was so beautiful. I’ll never forget looking over the edge and thinking “I am really here on The Amazing Race. I really have Parkinson’s and they are really asking me to climb over this bridge and climb down the ladder. This is freaky, crazy and just a little awesome.”

When you wrote your book, Perseverance, were you thinking this is going to be a book for people with PD to read, or a book for everyone to read?

I was thinking 60% Parkinson’s and 40% other. By that point, I was already speaking widely to different audiences, and I was able to see fairly quickly that my message resonated in many different settings. I wanted to make the book as broad as I could but understood that a large part of my audience would have Parkinson’s and I wanted to have a sound message to the Parkinson’s community.

Let’s say, you meet someone for the first time, and they don’t know anything about Parkinson’s disease, what would you like them to know?

There is so much I would want to say. But the first thing is that this is not an old person’s disease. If we can get that notion out of people’s heads, then we can get rid of a lot of the misconceptions that people have about Parkinson’s disease. I was talking yesterday to a friend with PD who is 43 years old. She is an early childhood educator, she is trying to finish up her degree and she is raising a family.  Her job is being reviewed as to whether she will be allowed to keep working because her symptoms are so bad.  But she has young kids and they rely on her in many ways, including earning money.  People don’t think about someone like her, when they think about Parkinson’s. That I would like to change.

As one of the ambassadors for Parkinson’s disease, what other holes in the Parkinson’s message do you want to fill?

Wellness, wellness, wellness, wellness. I am so thankful for all the research into finding a cure. But the fact is, and I say this as a trained nurse, modern medicine can treat many things, but does not cure much. If Parkinson’s is the one disease that we cure in my lifetime, I will be incredibly happy. But the chances of me going to my grave with Parkinson’s, without a cure, is far higher. Therefore, as a nurse, I have to ask myself. What do I do in the meantime? At our charity in Winnipeg, we talk about six prongs of wellness. If we can just get people exercising! And I mean beyond talking about it. But being able to share tangible, measurable results of what impact exercise has on PD. So we can tell people exactly what to do that will work for them.

What are the six prongs of wellness?

Physical, occupational, intellectual, spiritual, social, emotional. The goal is in time to tackle all of those pieces because they make up the whole person. Some of us, can get up and exercise very easily, but we don’t manage, maybe the emotional piece well. While others manage other pieces well, but maybe not the exercise. We need to look at the whole person and address all the needs.

When you travel, do you notice a difference among regional attitudes, areas that may embrace your message better or worse than other places?

There is not a significant representation of people of color. We know that there are a lot of folks of color who have Parkinson’s, but somehow it seems, at least where ever I go anyway, we are missing that demographic in North America. My crowds tend to be homogenous with very few people of color. I don’t know why that is, but that is one thing I see.

Otherwise, I don’t see a whole lot of difference. I hear similar questions and I hear similar responses whether I am in Seattle or Florida.

Where would you next like to spread your message?

There is lots more work to do in the Parkinson’s community, but just today I received an opportunity to speak to a different charity, for a different chronic illness group. I would like to take my message there. It’s the same message whatever chronic disease it is. I would love to be able to speak more to those folks as well.

Anything else that you would like to share with our audience?

The biggest lesson from the book that I would like to emphasize is that perseverance can be learned. We can change our mindset. We can live better. We can live our best. We just have to stay on the path, on the journey. And the three pieces that I talk about in the book are

1) Have the strength to do your best every day
2) Have the courage to be content
3) Have the will to persevere every day.

We can live our best if we practice those things.

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Dr. Rebecca Gilbert

APDA Vice President and Chief Scientific Officer

Dr. Gilbert received her MD degree at Weill Medical College of Cornell University in New York and her PhD in Cell Biology and Genetics at the Weill Graduate School of Medical Sciences. She then pursued Neurology Residency training as well as Movement Disorders Fellowship training at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center. Prior to coming to APDA, she was an Associate Professor of Neurology at NYU Langone Medical Center. In this role, she saw movement disorder patients, initiated and directed the NYU Movement Disorders Fellowship, participated in clinical trials and other research initiatives for PD and lectured widely on the disease.

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