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The race to beat Parkinsons disease
5K race to benefit foundation on behalf of stricken runner
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Chris Gaunt has more than 20 Peachtree Road Races under his belt. Unfortunately, the dedicated runner’s passion was cut short by Parkinson’s disease. His church has decided to hold an inaugural 5K race in his honor to raise money for research.

Run Over Parkinson’s Chris Gaunt 5K

Benefit for the National Parkinson Foundation

When: 7:30 a.m. June 23

Where: Flat Creek Baptist Church, 5504 Flat Creek Road, Gainesville

How much: $20 per person by Tuesday, $25 afterward

Information: 770-532-0228, www.flatcreekchurch.net

Parkinson’s disease support group

For patients and caretakers

Meetings: 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. first and third Thursdays each month (no meeting July 5)

Where: St Paul United Methodist Church, 404 Washington St., Gainesville

There’s something magical about that moment when rubber soles meet asphalt pavement.

It’s a thrill that’s close to indescribable for many running enthusiasts like Chris Gaunt.

“A friend of mine gave me the entry for the Peachtree Road Race (in Atlanta) in 1983,” recalls Gaunt, a Hall County resident. “After that I was hooked.”

Year after year, he trained hard and came back for more, racking up more than 25 Peachtree racing bibs.

“It kind of gets in your blood and you can’t get it out,” Gaunt said.

The Peachtree race wasn’t the only one that had a pull on him. He also has run in local 5K and 10K races, events in Washington state and even Ireland.

Next weekend’s 5K at Flat Creek Baptist Church in Gainesville probably would have been right up his ally if he were still able to lace up his racing shoes.

Unbeknownst to Gaunt, there was an unseen competitor nipping at his heels that finally made its presence known four years ago.

“I was experiencing tremors,” Gaunt said. “Initially, they were just in my left hand. I noticed them especially when I was driving.”

At his cousin’s urging, Gaunt followed up on the shakiness.

“Come to find out, I have Parkinson’s (disease),” Gaunt said. “Nobody in my family that we knew of had it.

“My aunt said that my great-grandfather had what (everyone) called ‘the shakes’ and that’s probably what he had, too, but we don’t know of any official family history.”

Parkinson’s disease is a neurodegenerative brain disorder that typically progresses slowly. There is no known cure. The main symptoms of the condition are tremors, rigidity in limbs and difficulty in balancing.

Though the disease isn’t fatal, it does impair motor skills and can make accomplishing daily tasks difficult.

After his August 2008 diagnosis, Gaunt was forced to retire his racing shoes.

He may not be able to pound the pavement himself, but it’s because of Gaunt that the participants in the Flat Creek race will be running on his behalf.

The race is officially known as the Run Over Parkinson’s Chris Gaunt 5K. The race, which will begin at 7:30 a.m. June 23, will raise money for the National Parkinson Foundation in Gaunt’s honor.

The race and its supporting cause was the brainchild of Flat Creek Pastor Mike Taylor.

“(Gaunt) is a dedicated runner who has accomplished a lot,” Taylor said.

“Part of the way that we experience church life is learning to celebrate one another. We’re saddened that he’s had this affliction come over him, but we’ve still got him with us and we’re going to celebrate this man’s life.”

Taylor himself is a competitive runner, but he’s not the only one at the church who has helped to make the race a reality. Flat Creek members and avid runners Mark and Nancy Kelley, owners of AAA Race Services in Oakwood, will time the race.

Flat Creek member Buster Tankersly’s 1931 Model A Ford will be the “lead car” for the event.

Even if those who run can take part. Walkers are welcome, as are racers like 90-year-old Bob Lee, who will be covering the course in his power scooter.

Interested parties are also invited to register as “phantom” racers supporting the cause in spirit.

“Our sponsorships have underwritten the race costs, so we can honestly say that when you register, every penny of your money is going to the National Parkinson’s Foundation,” Taylor said.

The fee is $20 per person before Tuesday, $25 afterward.

Organizers have registered with the Black Bag Race Series and Clover Glove Race Series, and anticipate drawing competitive racers from all over who want to improve their rankings within those groups.

So far, about 100 participants have signed up.

“This will be the first race that I’ve attended and have not been able to participate,” Gaunt said. “It’s going to be a challenge to be on the sidelines.

“But this isn’t about me. It’s about Parkinson’s.”

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