WILMETTE, Ill. — To prove what Parkinson's sufferers can do, Bill Bucklew decided to do something most people wouldn't even try: walk all the way across the U.S.
"If I want to raise awareness, that’s a way to raise awareness: to do something with a disability that most people without haven’t done," Bill said.
Bill was diagnosed with early-onset Parkinson’s disease when he was 43 years old. His own father was also diagnosed three years later. In setting the ambitious goal to cross the country, he hoped to show the million other Americans living with the disease that anything is possible. And raise $100,000 for Parkinson’s research along the way.
"People don’t want to talk about it. There’s a stigma with the disease," Bill said. "I’m trying to get out there and say, I’m living with the disease. I can walk across America; we can all do a little more.'"
His walk started in Georgia in the fall. He passed through Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and beyond, often walking by himself, with a friend driving an RV nearby. He covered more than a marathon of miles every day. The physical toll was great: blistered feet, 27 pairs of shoes, back pain and even frostbite.
"Other than when I was in a ditch in Roswell with a 50 mph wind storm and debris flying... I felt safe and felt within an arm's reach of any help that I needed, Bill said.
Along the way he received hundreds of letters of encouragement, had chance encounters with Americans he met and inspired. Local newspapers covered his journey as he passed through. It was a journey full of ups and downs, in every sense of the word. Through it all, he persevered.
"I had nights when I was just like “oh my god, I’m just killing it, I’m cloud nine, I’m crushing it,” he recalls. "And the very next night, I was like, 'I don’t know if I can do this.'"
As he headed to the finish in San Diego, a few other walkers were by his side. But the crowd grew, and dozens joined him for the final mile. In addition to changing hearts and minds along the way, Bill raised $107,000, which will be donated to the Michael J. Fox Foundation.
Bill returned home less than two weeks ago after walking the 2,600 miles from Georgia to California in 67 days. Sitting in his Wilmette home, he says it "still hasn't sunk in" that he's come so far.
Learn more about Bill's journey on his nonprofit's website