Photographers' Blog

A round in the ring against Parkinson’s

Costa Mesa, California

By Mike Blake

I have been tromping around the planet for some 50 years now. I don’t have much recollection of the first six or seven, but after that I can easily think back to places, people and events that remain inside my head much like the pictures I have shot remain on film and in pixels stored on the random-access memory inside this computer I’m typing on.

GALLERY: FIGHTING AGAINST PARKINSON’S

For each and every one of us, our memories are contained somewhere behind our eyes in a biological wonder of neurons that has yet to be fully understood. If you think about all your life’s memories and how much information that is, and, if you’re as old as me, you have to be impressed with this piece of engineering we all have. Not only is it holding your whole life in storage, it’s also been telling your heart when to beat, your stomach when to toss that bad piece of sushi and your body temperature to remain precisely regulated at exactly 98.7 F since the day you were born. If that’s not impressive enough, it tells your body to do everything you want it to do.

It controls all your motor functions, from me typing these letters on a computer screen, to getting up to go to the bathroom. As soon as you think it, it sends the signals down to your muscles and you get to where you’re going, or your arm brings that cup of coffee up to your mouth. Your brain can do all of these things in the blink of an eye – except when it can’t. And this is where I begin my little story about Parkinson’s disease.

I had never met anyone with Parkinson’s until I arrived at a gym in Costa Mesa, California where I had heard there was a fit and motivated woman named Anne Adams who had started a group of Parkinson’s patients on an exercise program called Rock Steady Boxing. Little did I know that the likes of Ron and Dan and Deloris and Jim and Jennifer and Gerry would soak into my mind such a great bunch of memories about what it means to be human.

Parkinson’s is named after the English doctor James Parkinson who published the disease’s first detailed description in 1817. The death of dopamine-generating cells in the brain affects movement, producing motor symptoms. It first manifests as tremors. Sensory and sleep difficulties are also common.

Kids in camo

By Pichi Chuang

The Albert kindergarten and day care center in the central Taiwan city of Taichung is as joyful and vibrant as any other, with its colorful plastic slides and trampolines, but what makes it different is the children. From five to nine years old wearing camouflage uniforms they practice crawling and handstands on foam cushions in the front yard, copying the training of army special forces frogmen.

Principal Fong Yun said “I think most Taiwanese children lack confidence compared with kids from other countries.” Inspired by U.S. physical therapist Glenn Doman’s theories, 15 years ago she created a series of exercises that combine military drills and gymnastics, believing that they would help children develop physical and mental strength.

“All our children have had a hard time practicing the exercises. When they encounter obstacles in the course of their life, such as college entrance exams, job hunting, or even marriage, the experience they gain here by practicing very hard and finding a way to do it perfectly is very helpful,” said Fong, adding that the exercises help develop digestive systems and the brain’s language center as well as courage and strength.

Kiev’s workout paradise

Kiev, Ukraine

By Gleb Garanich

Let me introduce you to the famous open-air “Sweat Gym” composed of around 200 work-out machines assembled from scrap iron to train all muscles. It is laid out on an island in the Dnieper river off Kiev.

I am not a sports fan, only learning about this place by accident. I thought it could make an interesting story and so I went to take pictures of the “Sweat Gym”. I was so struck by the uncanny scene that unfolded in front of me, that for the first half an hour I slowly roamed and looked around as if examining rare exhibits in a museum. Unknown gear, machines, intricate contraptions, old chains, wheels and tires, parts of caterpillar tracks and simple chunks of rusty metal – with humans swarming amid it all.

Even after spending three days there, I still did not have a clear idea of how some of the work-out gear worked and what some others were for. Supported by enthusiasts, this “workout paradise” appeared in the 1970s when the Soviet Union existed and has survived through the hard times that followed its collapse. Indeed, what comes to mind when you look at all this is an old newsreel featuring the Soviet-era industrialization drive – all these giant pieces of equipment and details cast in rough iron and tiny humans, completing the picture as small screws. Here, there are both professional sportsmen and amateurs, youths and pensioners and parents with children.

Venezuela’s healthy city

One of the daily activities I enjoy most is arriving home in the evening after a long shift at the office, grabbing my iPod and going out running. It makes me feel good, keeps me active, and more important still, it banishes all of the stress of the day.

But I don’t like running in a park or some other quiet place, much less shutting myself away in a gym to jog on a machine, which bores me very quickly.

What I love to do is run through the city, through the streets, without worrying about the traffic, skipping around pedestrians on the sidewalks. I always thought I was a bit crazy because of that, and then a friend told me about a big group of people who don’t just run in the streets, but they do it in packs at night. So I decided to document them.

Temple of Heaven

China’s elderly find life and joy in exercise

By Grace Liang and Lucy Hornby

BEIJING – Gao Mingyuan has found joy at age 66.

Joy, in his case, consists of bending himself double and hooking his legs around a pole that runs behind his shoulders, in a Chinese meditative martial arts tradition.

Gao is one of many Chinese seniors, freed from the rigors of work and raising children, who are turning to martial arts such as tai chi, bopping to trendy beats or singing patriotic songs as they seek health and friends in parks across the country.

“We forget all our troubles when we practice,” he said as he contorted himself at the Temple of Heaven, where seniors exercise beneath the gnarled trees at dawn.

  • Editors & Key Contributors