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Spotlight on documentary ‘It’s Just Parkinson’s’


Filmmaker Diane Akam’s documentary It’s Just Parkinson’s will be shown by the Fort Myers Film Festival at 7:00 p.m. on Thursday, May 19th. The film is an inspiring and emotional look at one man’s journey to live life to the fullest while living with a disease that has no cure. Written by Mary Dartis and featuring John Cullen, Vince Lamphere and Pattie Stoffel, IJP is about life, death, brotherhood and the profound impact of mindset in the face of adversity.

John Cullen is a 62-year-old man battling Parkinson’s disease with grit, courage, grace, and a warrior mindset. Five years before, he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s. A lifelong athlete, the disease slowly took Cullen out of many of his athletic pursuits. But as he navigated the changes the neurological disease caused in both his body and his life, he adopted the mantra “It’s Just Parkinson’s” in order to forge ahead.

Along the way, he incorporated powerlifting into his workouts. To his surprise, he discovered that stressing his central nervous system helped arrest and even reverse many of the symptoms he was experiencing.

At first, he began lifting on his own. But then he found Vincent Lamphere, a personal trainer from Iron DNA Fitness. As the two worked together, Cullen’s posture improved,  didn’t drag his feet as much when he walked and his strides became more elongated. His dead lift improved from 285 to 465 pounds.

Writing and reporting for WINK News in May of 2021, Jackie Winchester and Veronica Marshall noted that aside from the physiological and psychological improvements, powerlifting affords a cost-effective alternative to expensive physical therapy, which is typically not covered by insurance.

“I think for some people when they get diagnosed with Parkinson’s they’re devastated, they might think their life is over,” Cullen told “But my attitude was ‘bring it,’ ‘let’s go,’ ‘I’m ready to take you on.’ I’m not going to give up until I have to. I will die fighting.”

In fact, Cullen sees IJP as a rock, a light, a beacon of hope, the place someone goes to regroup and to settle against a storm. You don’t have to have Parkinson’s disease to live by IJP.

“Parkinson’s disease is a progressive nervous system disorder that affects movement,” the Mayo Clinic summarizes. “Symptoms start gradually, sometimes starting with a barely noticeable tremor in just one hand. Tremors are common, but the disorder also commonly causes stiffness or slowing of movement. In the early stages of Parkinson’s disease, your face may show little or no expression. Your arms may not swing when you walk. Your speech may become soft or slurred. Parkinson’s disease symptoms worsen as the condition progresses over time.

The cause of Parkinson’s is not known, but the onset of the condition appears to be related to genetic mutations that may or may not be caused by exposure to certain toxins or environmental factors. As a consequence, Parkinson’s can afflict anyone.

Over the past few decades, Muhammed Ali and Michael J. Fox have drawn considerable attention to the disorder.

Ali was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease in 1984, three years after his retirement from boxing. He would survive the disease for another 32 years, amounting to almost half of his life. Muhammad Ali passed away from complications of Parkinson’s on June 3, 2016 at the age of 74.

Fox was diagnosed with young-onset Parkinson’s disease in 1991 at the age of 29. Upon disclosing his condition in 1998, he committed himself to the campaign for increased Parkinson’s research. Later that year he launched The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, which the New York Times has called “the most credible voice on Parkinson’s research in the world.” Today the world’s largest non-profit funder of Parkinson’s drug development, the Foundation has galvanized the search for a cure for Parkinson’s disease (PD). Fox is widely admired for his tireless work as a patient advocate.

Although powerlifting is not a cure for Parkinson’s Disease, Cullen has been able to attain astonishing improvements to his mobility and overall health. The film chronicles Cullen’s journey over the course of one year. Through intimate interviews and personal video diaries, Cullen shares his innermost thoughts and feelings, as well as his greatest fears, about living with Parkinson’s disease. In a dramatic finish, Cullen competes in his first-ever powerlifting contest in the documentary.

Go here to view a trailer for the film.

May 8, 2022

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