Toronto man and friends trek from NYC to Toronto, on foot, for Parkinson's

A Toronto man and two companions set out from New York City on May 7. Their goal? To walk 800 kilometres back to Toronto. The entire way, raising money and awareness for Parkinson's disease.

All three people who walked are battling Parkinson's disease

Harry McMurtry, Sue Thompson and Ross Sugar, set out from New York City on foot, a roughly 800 km-long journey that began on May 7. (Harry McMurtry)

A 54-year-old man from Toronto and his two friends just walked 500 miles and would walk 500 more – all to raise awareness and money for Parkinson's disease.

Harry McMurtry, Sue Thompson and Ross Sugar, set out from New York City on foot, a journey that began on May 7 and ended in Toronto on June 20. Their trip was dubbed "500 Miles for Parkinson's," (or 800 km, translated to metric).

Each member of the trio is battling Parkinson's disease.

"We just put one step in front of the other and didn't give up," said McMurtry. "It's as simple as that."

A retired lawyer, McMurtry was diagnosed with young onset Parkinson's 12 years ago. The neuro-degenerative disease affects movement and speech and symptoms worsen over time.

"We want people to understand what the symptoms are, what it means to have Parkinson's and also understand we can still lead fulfilling lives," McMurtry said. "I think we demonstrated that our lives are very fulfilling."

McMurtry decided to do the walk to send the message that being diagnosed with Parkinson's disease doesn't mean that leading a rewarding life is impossible. Each step of the way, he was joined by Thompson, a Toronto teacher, and Sugar, a doctor from Baltimore.

"You can be fulfilled in life and have a diagnosis like Parkinson's disease," Ross said. "It's what you make of every hour and every day and every month of your life, that's what makes it fulfilling."

The goal of the walk was to raise money and spread the message that being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease doesn’t mean you won’t have a rewarding life. (CBC News)

The inspiration for the walk was John McPhee, a friend of McMurtry's who walked the same distance in the United Kingdom.

McPhee came all the way from Scotland to join the crowd of supporters gathered at Queen's Park around noon on Monday to give McMurtry and his companions a hero's welcome as they ended their journey.

"What I wanted from the walk was more outreach and Harry has done that. He's done everything to get more people understanding. [They] have just taken the baton and waved it loud and waved it high. I couldn't thank them more," McPhee said.

At the end of the 45-day trek, total strangers and prominent politicians were on hand to show their support, including Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and Toronto Mayor John Tory. For Thompson, reaching young people with their message was particularly important.

"One of the things that attracted me to get involved with the walk was the awareness and being an educator," she said. "So going into schools and being able to talk to kids about not being afraid of things, whether it's Parkinson's or something else. And to believe in yourself, we kind of role-modelled that [with the walk]."

The goal of the journey is to raise $500,000 for organizations in support of Parkinson's disease and other movement disorders. As of Monday, the walk had raised $400,000. 

With files from Marivel Taruc


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.