Playing for Parkinson’s: Winnetka Man plans 24-hour tennis-a-thon


WINNETKA, IL – Ten years ago Mike DeBartolo was training for his first marathon when he recognized the first signs that something was wrong.

The avid athlete and native of Winnetka was living in New York City at the time, and the 2011 New York City Marathon fell on its 50th anniversary.

“I was like, ‘Well that’s a sign, let’s try this,’” DeBartolo recalled this week. “I liked training for it, but the weird thing was that I was getting weaker with the stamina while I was training. I knew something was wrong about that.”

It will take another six years of hardship and uncertainty before doctors diagnose him with early-onset Parkinson’s. Even before the diagnosis was official, DeBartolo found himself having to adapt.

DeBartolo, who was to quit his job as a magazine editor and look to a new career in development, and his wife Terry, originally from Glen Ellyn, returned to Winnetka to be closer to their aging parents. His attitude to life changed, as he learned to let go of control and trust a higher power more.

“You face this adversity, you don’t have to face it alone. [You] can face it with God, can face it with our family, can face it with friends, can face it being active, having a good attitude, ”he said.

Staying active since his diagnosis has been essential for DeBartolo, who has changed his athletic activities in response to some of the physical challenges that accompany his neurodegenerative disorder.

“Keeping playing and finding joy is a little bit crucial,” DeBartolo told Patch. “For me it’s not just being active, it’s being playful, finding ways to play, which is probably a good thing for all of us – but especially with this condition – and if you can happily do it. , and when you can do it with friends and family, that’s all the more important. “

An accomplished golfer and tennis player, DeBartolo has found ways to overcome some of the coordination problems caused by his symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.

DeBartolo developed his own techniques for making birdies by hitting putts and chip shots using his non-dominant left hand on the golf course. Likewise, he has found it effective to focus on the backhand on the tennis court.

When training revealed that the 112-mile cycling portion of a full Ironman triathlon would not be achievable, he cut the distances in half and pulled it off.

Instead of running a marathon, he took them for a walk – one along the lake with his daughter and the Winnetka playgrounds, where he hosted his first Parkinson’s charity last September.

For the Par’s Parkinson’s ‘golf-a-thon’ event, DeBartolo played 100 holes of golf on the par 3 course and raised approximately $ 20,000 for the care and healing initiatives. Parkinson disease. He plans to repeat the feat over two days in mid-September.


Mike DeBartolo, center, played 100 holes of golf with his family and friends on August 28-29, 2020, to raise funds for Parkinson’s care and research. (Courtesy of Mike DeBartolo)

And next month, DeBartolo is organizing another fundraiser around playing sports.

The Play for Parkinson 2021 event at the AC Nielsen Tennis Center kicks off at noon on July 10, the start of a 24-hour tennis marathon.

The event is organized in partnership with the Winnetka Park District, and donations will be divided between the Parkinson Foundation and the Center for Parkinson’s Disease and Movement Disorders at Northwestern University.

Art Nielsen Jr., an avid tennis player and son of the namesake of the Park District 20 Court Tennis Center, also developed Parkinson’s disease later in his life before his death in 2011 at the age of 92. years.

From 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. on the first day of the marathon, the tennis center’s teaching professionals will provide an instructional clinic for beginners, intermediate and advanced players with Parkinson’s disease.

At 4 p.m. DeBartolo plans to address attendees ahead of a scheduled exhibition match featuring his nephew, two-time high school state champion and All-American Robert Stineman, and other top tennis players. .

DeBartolo said he won’t be on the court for the full 24 hours, and members of the New Trier High School tennis teams could participate to keep the tennis marathon’s momentum going overnight.

Interested players can register online for timeslots during the marathon, players with Parkinson’s can find out more or RSVP for the tennis clinic and anyone can donate to the cause.

DeBartolo hopes that the very first Play for Parkinson’s tennis event will bring together the community of people living with Parkinson’s disease with the Winnetka community and, more broadly, the entire North Shore tennis community.

“We’re not all as open as I am with Parkinson’s disease,” DeBartolo said. “I feel like this is a condition that can be quite difficult – why should I tackle it on my own? And I’m grateful for a loving wife, loving family, caring friends. on faith.

“But part of that speaks to people, and whether they have Parkinson’s disease or some other disease, it helps people inspire each other,” he added. “At least I know it’s useful to me, and it’s hard to do if you keep things like that to yourself. So not everyone is open about their condition, but those who are, they recognize that they are not alone and they can feed each other. “


Julio V. Miller

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