The Long Run
Parkinson’s Disease Can’t Slow Down Local Marathon Runner & Rock Steady Boxer Steve Gilbert
Photographer / Ron Wise
For Steve Gilbert, limits are illusions — nothing more than hindrances we place on ourselves.
One glimpse into Gilbert’s physical accomplishments over the past decade, and it becomes apparent that such an optimistic personal philosophy has been shaped by plenty of adversity and a tireless work ethic.
A few years after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease in 2004, Gilbert spotted a story in the newspaper about Rock Steady Boxing, a nonprofit that offers non-contact, boxing-inspired workouts for those with Parkinson’s. Never much of an athlete (he describes himself through junior high and high school years as “the kid in math club, not the kid on the ball field”), he was a bit intimidated but intrigued enough to try it out. After one class, he was hooked.
“It was hard work, and they kept telling me I could do things that I didn’t think I could do,” says Gilbert, a 73-year-old Indy native and Fishers resident. “It’s meant for people with movement difficulties, and I thought it sounded like fun. I reached a new level of fitness that I never had before. It transformed my life emotionally and spiritually.”
In 2010, Gilbert’s younger brother Bruce, a Kansas resident and a runner since junior high who has completed eight Boston Marathons starting in 1969, came to Indy for the Geist Half Marathon. Having attained newfound confidence and unexpected success in his physical development thanks to regular workouts at Rock Steady, Gilbert figured it was time for an additional challenge and decided to join Bruce for the race.
“It was so empowering to finish that half marathon, thinking back on all the progress I’d made and dealing with Parkinson’s,” Gilbert says. “I guess I got the running bug, and I did the Geist Half and the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon the next year. I’ve been running pretty much nonstop ever since.”
And the fitness opportunities keep coming. This spring, Gilbert was contacted by Blake Boldon, director of the Drake Relays, one of the top track and field events in the country held in Des Moines, Iowa. Boldon knew Gilbert from his days directing the Monumental Marathon and formally invited Gilbert to compete in the 40-years-and-older Masters 800-meter race on April 26 at the 110th Drake Relays.
“(Boldon) wanted me to come as an example of maintaining fitness and fighting back against the challenges that I’ve faced,” Gilbert explains. “It was an honor to be able to do it.”
Since the age of 65, Gilbert has become a veritable race veteran, having finished two full marathons, 12 half marathons and more than 40 other races of various distances — never letting his physical limitations get in the way. His current schedule includes Rock Steady workouts twice per week and runs three times per week, often with local fitness groups Fishers Running Club and Indy Runners. He gives credit for his physical progress to his trainers and fitness partners, family, friends and colleagues at Cyntheanne Christian Church in Fishers, as well as the city of Fishers itself.
“With all the trails and sidewalks, Fishers is an inviting place for a runner,” Gilbert says. “Construction on a lot more of the sidewalks is underway, and I’m excited to see that. To have a lot of the trails and sidewalks connected is good for a runner because you want to stay in your rhythm without having to stop at gaps and streets.”
Gilbert recently competed in the Indianapolis Monumental Mile race in June and the Monumental Marathon in the fall. As he continues dealing with physical challenges of Parkinson’s, he stands as proof that anyone of any age can work to improve their health and outlook on life.
“Your biggest obstacle is you,” he says. “You can do more than you think you can and more than other people think you can. I feel healthier than I ever thought I could be, given my age and challenges. I think you have to celebrate your small victories and don’t get discouraged. It’s never too late to start, and it’s always too soon to quit.”