Merl Shelley. Ezra Black/The Free Press

Sparwood golfer Merl Shelley plays through, despite Parkinson’s

Sparwood golf tournament raises almost $7,000 for Parkinson’s research

Six years ago, Parkinson’s disease put Merl Shelley’s ball in the rough.

But the Sparwood resident is not whiffing on his chance to make a difference.

He’s playing through.

“With a disease, you just can’t sit down and let it take over,” he said. “You’ve got to keep moving.”

Merl is the founder of the Sparwood Parkinson’s Golf Tournament.

On Saturday, 74 golfers played in the second annual tournament and raised $6,751 for the Parkinson’s Society of British Columbia, their most successful year to date.

As he prepared to tee off on the fifth hole, Merl reflected on all the businesses that donated prizes for the tournament’s raffle and the number of citizens who had turned out to play.

“I’m overwhelmed with the amount of support from the club and the businesses in the community,” he said. “It’s amazing. We’ve got to get the word out about Parkinson’s. It’s on the rise and there are more and more cases everyday.”

According to the Parkinson’s Society of Canada, the disease is a degenerative neurological disorder caused by the death of dopamine producing brain cells. Symptoms include tremors, slowness and stiffness, impaired balance and ridged muscles. It is estimated that 10 million people, worldwide, are living with the disease.

There is no known cure but research is showing that regular exercise can lessen the symptoms.

Merl deals with the challenges of Parkinson’s on a daily basis but says playing golf helps lessen his symptoms.

“If you keep moving you won’t stiffen up and get sore,” he said.

Merl’s wife Carol explained how her husband’s diagnoses affected their family.

“Finding out is a bit of a shock of course, for everybody,” she said. “But it’s all how you take it. How bad it’ll be is how bad you make it in your life.”

Carol said her husband founded the tournament because he and his friends love golf. Last year’s tournament was played in memory of Sparwood resident Joe Tracey, a Parkinson’s sufferer and avid golfer who sadly passed away.

Through a 50/50 draw, a putting contest for longest putt and other clever ideas, the tournament raised $5258.75 for Parkinson’s research.

“Last year was a huge success,” she said. “We had so many people who enjoyed it and wanted to come back.”

Other golfers with Parkinson’s also played in Saturday’s tournament. Sparwood residents Gary Holland, Christine Fleming and Terry Hume also turned out to show their support.

RBC and Western Financial Group each offered a $10,000 hole-in-one prize for anyone who could achieve the feat. Many other corporations also made cheque donations towards the parkinsons society.

Hume’s wife Shelley volunteered to stakeout the hole in case anyone did. Shelly said Terry was diagnosed in 2007 and underwent a surgical procedure called deep brain stimulation in 2012, which has lessened his symptoms.

“We were very lucky he was able to get the surgery,” she said.

As Merl bogeyed the fifth hole, he reflected on how Parkinson’s has been affecting his golf game.

“It’s getting worse,” he quipped. “But oh well, I still keep coming out.”