Eighteen years ago, Diane Deemer was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Deemer had been a marathoner and triathlete, and while she’s had to give up some of those pursuits since her diagnosis, she has stayed active with the help of her husband and caregiver, Phil, and support from the Lake Forest community.
“For Parkinson’s, exercise is one of the biggest treatments there is. Sure, there’s lots of medicine Diane takes, but there is a very active Parkinson’s community in Lake Forest, partly centered around the Lake Forest Health and Fitness Club,” Phil Deemer says. “There are classes there specifically for Parkinson’s patients that they’ve had for three or four years now. They include things like boxing and spin and strength and balance. They say to keep moving is a big element of working with Parkinson’s.”
The Deemers started tandem bicycling when they first met in the mid-90s as a way to cycle together. They took their tandem bike with them on the honeymoon to Italy in 1999 and since Diane’s diagnosis, tandem cycling has become central to their lives.
They have a deal.
“When I pedal, she has to pedal,” Phil explains.
He says for the past 15 years Diane has not been able to ride a single bike because of balance problems so they’ve kept up the tandem and that’s been the primary way for them to get exercise. Diane can ride the tandem better than she can walk, even though she was a very strong runner prior to her diagnosis.
The two met through the Lake Forest Running Club after they both moved to Lake Forest in 1990 from different places. They regularly tandem cycle local trails as well as trails around the country.
“We love bicycling on the lakefront trail in downtown Chicago. We’ve been all over the world and have lived all over the world and that trail in downtown Chicago is one of the prettiest and best trails there is for bicycling,” Phil says. “We go there all the time. We also love the local bike trails here in Lake Forest and Lake Bluff and on the rest of the North Shore.”
An annual tradition for the couple is the Door County Century bicycle ride in September in Wisconsin. They started the tradition before they were married, and Phil estimates they’ve participated in the race at least 20 times.
Then there are the trips abroad.
“Italy is just one of those magnets for bicycling, and we’ve done a number of trips in Italy in Tuscany and Puglia. A recent trip we took was to Croatia along the Adriatic Sea, and we went to Montenegro and Slovenia,” Phil says. “Last year we went to French Polynesia, where a boat let us off on a different island each day. That was one of those unforgettable trips.”
Upcoming trips are scheduled for Japan in Spring 2023, the Columbia River Valley in summer, and a ride along the Columbia River from the east part of Oregon to the Pacific Ocean. In January 2024, they plan to go to New Zealand.
The trips are programmed through an adventure company, Santana Adventures, and many tandem bicyclists participate so there’s a lot of support and camaraderie.
“Diane gets a lot of attention. She’s usually the only one that has Parkinson’s doing this kind of stuff. We feel good being in the company of people who can help us if we need it,” Phil says. “We just enjoy traveling all over with our bicycle. Every now and then we’ll go to a beach in Maui but for the most part we like these trips where we can stay active. We’re going to keep doing them as long as we can.”