CARY — Jim Simons fishes with a sense of accomplishment these days.
Simons, 65, has fished regularly since he was 11. Though he can find the bass and catfish hangouts as well as anyone, he admits he’s never won top prize in a contest.
But that’s not what brings him to riverbanks or fishing boats.
In the last nine years, Simons has come to appreciate the little things about fishing: traversing the woods near his Raleigh home to the Neuse River, the mud shifting beneath his waders, tying a hook on the line and casting it right where he wants.
The tug on the other end of the line is a bonus.
Simons has Parkinson’s disease, a neuro-degenerative disorder that can cause unsteadiness, trembling, stuttering and uncontrollable tics.
He doesn’t let it slow him down too much.
“Parkinson’s is not a death sentence,” Simons said. “It is a pain. But if you stay active and positive, you can do a lot for yourself.”
On Saturday, Simons will take part in the first major Parkinson’s disease benefit walk in North Carolina, an event that will be held at Koka Booth Amphitheatre in Cary.
“Moving Day,” as the event is known, starts at 9 a.m. and will feature a 1.9-mile walk, exercise classes, massages, live music and inspirational speakers.
Duke and UNC hospitals partnered with the National Parkinson Foundation to host “Moving Day.”
The event is an annual occurrence elsewhere in the country, where there are chapters of the National Parkinson Foundation. North Carolina doesn’t have a chapter, so Duke and UNC took the lead to raise money for local programming as well as a local NPF chapter.
Jessica Katz, a coordinator and clinical social worker at the UNC Hospitals movement disorders center, says demand for the programs is evident in “Moving Day” fundraising.
“We’ve raised more than $68,000,” said Katz, who serves as chairwoman for the event. “Our original goal was $50,000. Then it was $60,000. Now, I think we’re going to surpass $70,000.”
Having a chapter would help centralize information about the disease, research and treatment, Katz said. The more support the walk gets, the more the hospitals and the national foundation can offer, she said.
For example, Duke hosts exercise programs that are specifically targeted toward people with Parkinson’s. Katz would like to extend similar classes to Parkinson’s patients throughout the state.
“If you have Parkinson’s and live in a rural area, you might only have access to a physical trainer who works with athletes,” she said.
Exercise is important for people with Parkinson’s because it helps reduce the symptoms. Duke’s class, which runs three days a week for eight weeks, is specifically targeted to deal with patients’ everyday problems.
“People with Parkinson’s are at risk of falling for different reasons, so the class works on balance,” said Arlene D’Alli, a licensed clinical social worker in the neurology department at Duke Medicine. “They also practice things like walking and getting out of a chair more safely.”
About 1million Americans have Parkinson’s disease, and more than 56,000 of them live in North Carolina and South Carolina, according to the Parkinson Association of the Carolinas. There is no cure, but there are treatments for the symptoms, and Simons is familiar with them.
Some Parkinson’s patients, like Simons, don’t have the violent shakes and twitches displayed by actor Michael J. Fox, who has the disease. But their lives are still affected. Simons has trouble changing facial expressions. He says friends often ask him what he’s upset about.
“But I’m not (upset), I just have to make a conscious effort to smile,” he said.
Simons remains positive most of the time.
“If you’re going to have Parkinson’s, right in this area is a good place to have it,” he said. “There’s very dedicated people working on it.”
His symptoms get a little worse every day, he said, so he does everything he can to fend off depression, which can be another side effect of the disease. He fishes as often as possible and attends a support group in Cary.
“I try to be active and have fun every day,” Simons said. “I don’t hold anything back.”
There are few places he’d rather be than on the banks of the Neuse with a fishing rod in his hand. That’s where he went one recent cloudy morning. The fish didn’t bite much, but it didn’t matter.
He’ll be glad to trudge back through the brush and try again soon.
Specht: 919-460-2608; Twitter: @AndySpecht