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I am now at an age where I can begin to look back at the chapters of my story. I was raised in a very structured, loving and active environment. I can remember the three-square meals a day my parents were there to provide. Every day I would run home from elementary school for lunch. My lunch was prepared very quickly and efficiently leaving ample time for practicing football, basketball, baseball, ping pong or any other mental task of the day before returning to school. This is the way it was. This was a normal day for me, and it always stuck with me throughout my life.
Having structure gave me great confidence. I was that younger kid on the block who was always trying to convince the older kids to let me compete in their backyard games. Though I was smaller and skinnier, speed was my greatest asset and I learned to utilize it to succeed.
As I look back on junior high, I now recognize I was hardly the best athlete. In fact, I was usually the sixth guy on the basketball team trying to break into the starting lineup. I experienced great growth through high school and caught my first break when I was noticed by an MSU football coach while he was recruiting a player from the opposing team. He got me believing that I could compete with the best and that living my dream was possible.
Playing football while attending Michigan State University my dream was to become a top NFL draft pick. Little did I know baseball would be my calling. After playing only one season of baseball at MSU my junior year, I signed a Major League baseball contract with my hometown team, the Detroit Tigers. After playing 52 games of Class A baseball during the summer in Lakeland, I gained even more confidence as I returned to MSU to play football my senior year.
After the Big Ten football season I played in the Hula Bowl, followed by the Senior Bowl a week later…and then…football was over. I went back to baseball playing 50+ games in AAA under Jim Leyland and celebrated winning the league championship. The next day I was off to the Big Leagues. Five years later in 1984, we were World Series Champions! We were the best in the world. Looking back, I learned so many valuable lessons and had to make constant adjustments. Fighting failures became routine, having great teammates inspired me to get back up whenever I got knocked down.
I went on to win another World Championship in 1988 with the LA Dodgers and was fortunate to hit a historic homerun and secure a place in Major League Baseball history forever. When I retired in 1995, I began to wonder…what next? What will be my new World Series?
Ironically, in the late 90’s I ended up becoming part of the media with Fox Sports Detroit. Then, I stumbled into coaching when my longtime Tiger teammate and good friend, Alan Trammell, and took the job as Manager with the Detroit Tigers. From there an opportunity came along to be the Bench Coach with the Arizona Diamondbacks alongside another former teammate, Bob Melvin. I was surprised when I was made the Manager for the Diamondbacks in 2010 and we won the National League Division a year later, in 2011.
After being relieved by the Diamondbacks near the end of the 2014 season, I accepted an offer to telecast 60 games for the Detroit Tigers during the 2015 season. Opening Day in the broadcast booth is a day I’ll never forget. As we prepared to telecast the game, I was hit with great anxiety on camera which lasted throughout the entire game. During the postgame wrap up I totally locked up and was unable to talk. I knew I needed guidance on how to deal with the issues I had been ignoring. Little did I know the biggest challenge of my lifetime was about to come. Two days later I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease, and I had no choice but to fight it.
I felt overwhelmed and wasn’t sure what this meant but was thinking the worst. I had encountered many negative thoughts on the field and overcame them by constantly affirming positive experiences…remembering how good success made me feel. I will use this again as I compete against my new opponent…Parkinson’s Disease.
I thought it was weird at first but wiped it away. Often my neck became stiff and painful. My left arm became glued to my left side. It was diagnosed as a pinched C67 disc, and I went on to have surgery to repair it. Surgery provided minimal relief. My left shoulder began to hurt so I had another surgery to alleviate that problem. I believed these ailments were caused by athletic wear from years of competition. There were other problems along the way, but I asked myself if I was just getting old or was it something else? At times the anxiety made me feel like I couldn’t function. Being out in public and trying to cover it up was exhausting. I began sticking my hand in my pocket to hide the tremors. I started to limp when my left foot went forward. Again, pawning it off as an orthopedic problem. Even though I saw medical personnel on a regular basis all through my years in sports – we missed it. And I lived in denial that something was wrong because my personality was to never give in to anything.
“These hands hit 255 home runs and wore 2 World Series rings. Now they have Parkinson’s disease. So, now they shake.”
Since I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s I’ve become much more reflective. Every day I’m learning more about this disease and what potential challenges lie ahead. I also realized that I am not alone in my battle.
As I expanded my knowledge of the disease, I also expanded the mission for the Kirk Gibson Foundation to not only build awareness of Parkinson’s Disease but also to provide support for those battling the disease every day. Through collaboration, cooperation and teamwork, the Foundation will support activity-based programs that improve the quality of life for those living with Parkinson’s Disease, their care partners, loved ones and friends.
Until there is a cure, my Foundation is here to help people through the day-to-day fight. I’d like them to understand they have a new normal. Although we currently can’t make it stop, we can help you slow it down.
As a professional athlete I was fortunate to always have access to a team facility. It is where my teammates and I would go for our physical conditioning, strength training rehabilitation treatments as well as exchanging information about different exercises, training routines and nutrition.
Then, the idea struck me.
We could create a similar kind of treatment center where people with Parkinson’s could participate in an abundance of activities and exercise classes led by trained instructors. This Center would also provide the latest information about treatments, nutrition and therapies as well as provide a place to socialize and develop a sense of community for people with Parkinson’s and their care partners.
This will be a significant step in creating a physical manifestation of our mission and promoting a culture of positive thinking, compassion and camaraderie.
Follow the Kirk Gibson Foundation on social media to track progress made on the construction of the facility.
More questions? Learn how to Navigate Parkinsons.