Like the love stories that you read about or in the movies that you see, Tony and Catherine have a love for each other and life that has not let the challenge of Alzheimer’s stop them from experiencing new countries or creating beautiful memories together.
Catherine was diagnosed with early onset dementia in her early fifties. A year prior to her diagnosis Tony had the realisation that Catherine was becoming very repetitive in speech and simple tasks were becoming more difficult. This then began to seep into her work life where Tony became more involved as they were discussing letting her go - Tony wanted an answer, so he took her to a neurologist.
Tony was a Pilot and was used to problem solving and looking for the best course of action in difficult moments. Once they had received the news of Catherine’s dementia, they did not want to wait as they knew that the time horizon was unclear, and Tony had recently been told that he needed heart-valve replacement.
Tony and Catherine looked for activities that they enjoyed doing together and decided to take early retirement, sell their home and travel the world whilst taking part in various marathons. “We didn’t set out to be nomads, but it just happened,” said Tony.
Crossing the finish line hand in hand, Tony and Catherine had run 55 marathons before her diagnosis and since they have continued to add to that astonishing number. They are now currently on stop 681 and have been travelling for the past 8 years, only staying in one place for 3-4 days. During 2020 with travelling being quite different, they stayed in St Kitts for 6 weeks but were still planning on what would be their next race and where they would go next.
They return home to the US every 3 months to see their four children and six grandchildren. Although it was difficult for the children to understand why they were going travelling after the diagnosis Catherine and Tony were adamant that this is how they wanted to spend their time together. Catherine being an extremely strong woman who had once walked a half marathon in the Australian Outback just weeks after breaking her ankle, she knew that she had the inner strength to push herself mentally and physically over the next challenge.
Since their journey has begun, they have travelled to eighty-two different countries and have run at least a half-marathon in thirty-five countries on all seven continents.
Tony shares “Over the last year it is getting harder for her, and she has less stamina, but we just take it easy, walking more and we use her ‘Cat Mobile’ but we will always cross the finishing line together hand in hand like we have always done.”
As they set off on their travels Tony started writing a blog so that he could share the stories with their family and friends but also to share with Catherine as her memory faded. The book has now been published and provides first hand accounts of their travels and journey until now.
Q&A with Tony Copeland-Parker
What is it like to travel with someone that has dementia?
The travelling industry is very accommodating and is part of their training to assist people. I would definitely tell people to try it, it was daunting at the beginning but if you explain your situation people are very helpful. There have been many times where we have been brought to the front of the queue, had help with our luggage and let off the plane first. It is doable so give it a go!
Our travelling days are Catherine’s favourite now, it has become the norm and she looks forward to the routine of them. She does have what is known as ‘sundowning’ so we just ensure that we are settled at that time and usually travel early in the morning.
Would you have done anything differently?
At the beginning of the journey, I really wanted to find a cure for Catherine. That became all encompassing, I have always been a problem solver, so I wanted to find the solution. In hindsight I wish that I had just spent the time on being with Catherine more. I only gave up a year ago, so it had delayed the grieving process.
What has been your biggest lesson that you would like to share?
Do not get caught up in the disease, there is still so much of life to live. Find something you love with your loved one and explore it, just be together. It has been amazing creating these memories and how we have shaped a whole new life for ourselves even throughout the challenges that we face.
What is your advice for being a caregiver?
Find things that bring you joy; you need to keep yourself happy too! I really enjoy sailing so that is something that I do to bring me happiness.
What brings Catherine and you joy?
I really love making the travelling plans, but we enjoy our walks or runs together every day, seeing our friends, meeting new people and finding new places to eat!
Tony and Catherine are currently heading back to the US to run all the ½ marathons in each state, Catherine has already accomplished this and has run a marathon in all 50 states! If you would like to keep up with their journey head to their website or their Instagram.
We would like to share our gratitude for the time that Tony took with us to share his story as he sat in the beautiful St Kitts, it was inspiring to hear of their beautiful love story and how life can continue after diagnosis but just with a little more planning and patience.
If you would like to follow Tony & Catherine on their adventure around the world follow them on Instagram @toncp55 or follow the blog on www.runningwithcat.com