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Following Parkinson's diagnosis, Bill Brown turns to cross-country skiing

Bill Brown perseveres following Parkinson's diagnosis
Bill Brown perseveres following Parkinson's diagnosis 05:05

MINNEAPOLIS — Bill Brown was living the American dream. He and his wife were raising three boys, he was in his early 50s and he had ascended at the Toro Companies to be a finalist for the CEO position.

He was an active competitive cross-country skier when he felt a cramp at the Birkebeiner in Hayward, Wisconsin.

"I was in the Birkebeiner ski race up in northern Wisconsin, which I've done many times, and I started getting some cramps in my foot," Brown said.

The diagnosis came later — Parkinson's disease. He decided to pull out of the Toro prize position.

"The doctors at the Mayo said that I can go ahead it was just that stress will make the symptoms a little bit worse," Brown said. "So I went and met with the CEO and he was quite understanding, and said 'What do you want to do?"

But what he also decided was that he would not quit living, he would not quit participating and he would not give in to the insidious disease.

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Enter his wife, Karen, and their three sons — one lives in Maryland and is in business, and the other two are bi-athletes. Jake Brown is an olympian.

"I mean, I think when you're a kid and you grow up as a sports fan, you see the Olympics. That's kind of the pinnacle of sports," Jake Brown said.

Luke Brown hopes to make the next Olympic team with his brother.

"I've been doing biathlon for about five years now. And so, about three more to the next Olympics. It will take a couple steps up," Luke Brown said.

It might pale in comparison to what Brown has done since his diagnosis. He decided to travel and compete in a series of races that took him around the world with Parkinson's.

"In the back of my mind, I always had a goal to see if I could do all 20 because no American has done 20," Brown said. "So at that point, I said, OK, let's go for it and see if I can knock off all 20. In 2019 I achieved my goal and finished the 20th one down in Argentina."

He's now 61 years old and says he will not give in to life's new normal. He will serve as an example to his family. He will not be denied because of circumstances, the man who fights because he sees it as a choice.

"It's really inspiring to see him take on Parkinson's. Honestly, it's just inspiring to see him continue to make an intentional choice to live the way that he wants to," Jake Brown said.

It's not just that he stays active, it's that he is taking an uncontrollable turn in his life and turning it into something that requires leaving his comfort zone.

"I think it's also cool that he's put himself out there to let people hear his story. I think that's something that doesn't come that naturally to him," Luke Brown said.

In the midst of it, he is raising money to fight Parkinson's — over half a million dollars has been donated in his name to the Michael J. Fox Foundation.

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"It's opened up some neat opportunities for Bill with the Michael J. Fox Foundation and starting Ski for Parkinson's and using his love of skiing and doing the world loppet races to help support a great cause," Karen Brown said.

And his wife of more than three decades quietly leads the family mission.

"Our mom has been the glue for us, our whole family, growing up," Jake Brown said. "She doesn't talk about it but she's been very successful herself."

He understands that the best medicine is what he is doing — staying active.

"What all the experts say is exercise is the most important thing for managing the symptoms. So if you push the body and exercise a fair amount you can kind of keep things better,"  Brown said.

Because he knows his children are inspired and they are watching and praying for their dad.

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