Clinical faculty member raises awareness and funds for Parkinson’s disease research at Ironman Kona

Thousands of triathletes from around the world will descend on Kona, Hawaii, this week for the 2023 Ironman World Championship on Saturday, Oct. 14.

Among them is Sara Whittingham, M.D., a clinical faculty member at Northeast Ohio Medical University and a physician at Cleveland Clinic Marymount Hospital. Dr. Whittingham, who was invited to compete by the Ironman organization, will race to raise awareness of Parkinson’s disease and $1 million to support research at NEOMED to stop the progression of the disease and improve outcomes for those living with Parkinson’s disease.

A smiling woman holds her finishers' medal after completing an Ironman event in Utah.

The Ironman race includes a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride and a 26.2-mile marathon.

As a competitive triathlete, Dr. Whittingham sees how her strenuous workouts benefit her neurodegenerative condition. She was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease three years ago.

At that time, she was relaxing at home and noticed that her arm was shaking. An internet search on the symptoms found page after page of information on Parkinson’s disease. She met with a neurologist who confirmed the diagnosis.

Exercise heals the brain

A woman in a helmet sits on her racing bicycle.1.2 million United States residents will live with Parkinson’s disease by 2030. Studies reveal that the disease usually gets worse over time and that there is no cure. Research also shows that exercise heals the brain.

Seeing the studies being done by NEOMED researcher Sheila Fleming, Ph.D., a key opinion leader in behavioral neuroscience and Parkinson’s disease, Dr. Whittingham says that research offers a lot of hope for the quality of her future. And when Dr. Fleming recently received a $1.5 million Notice of Award from the Department of Defense/United States Army Medical Research to support her research, “Modeling Cognitive Dysfunction in Parkinson’s Disease and the Impact of Exercise,” the two became even further connected as Dr. Sara Whittingham is also a veteran of the U.S. Air Force.

Dr. Whittingham – a mom, veteran, physician, teacher and triathlete – hopes to help prove that exercise not only heals the brain but it may very well be the nonpharmacological therapeutic intervention for cognitive dysfunction in Parkinson’s disease – giving hope to more than one million people (one-tenth of whom are veterans) who suffer from it in the U.S. alone.

Learn more about Dr. Whittingham and Parkinson’s disease research at NEOMED


Congratulations to Dr. Whittingham for finishing the 2023 Ironman Kona race with a time of 15 hours 40 minutes and 53 seconds!


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