Saturday, May 3, 2014

Slovenia – Olympic Dreams

As a child I always dreamed of being a professional athlete.  As I have introduced my background during talks I have given along my journey, I have used this slide to demonstrate my childhood dreams.

As a child my play was centered around sports.  If I was playing with friends or cousins, I was always happiest when playing sports.  Even my time alone was spent in imaginary contests.  Although I probably spend time imagining myself in every major sport, my real fascination was with the Olympics.  As a child I would get exited every 4 years when the Olympics would come around, though media/television coverage was limited in my small town in Montana at that time.  I still remember at 8 years-old creating a scrapbook by cutting out every newspaper photo from the 1976 Olympics in Montreal. Durring the World Parkinson Congress last year, I was able to visit the site of this memory.

To this day I still have a difficult time watching the opening and closing ceremonies for the Olympic games, because of a silly sense of regret that hits me when I see the athletes enter the stadium.  To compensate, I have tried to visit as many Olympic stadiums as possible over the years.  On this trip alone, I have been to former Olympic stadiums in Beijing, Tokyo, Melbourne and Helsinki.  And by the end will have touched down in former Winter Olympic host cities, Sarajevo and Oslo,

(If anyone is still wondering…this is my first glimpse of the stadium used for 1956 Olympics in Melbourne)

When I heard the that the Parkinson’s support group in Sovenia had invited Olympic athletes to the event in Ljubljana, I have to admit – I was a bit giddy.  Even more excited when I found out that Vesna Fabjan (on the far left in both photos below), a three-time Olympic and medalist in cross-country skiing, would be attending.

In fact the entire event was a testimony to the outstanding organizational structure and commitment of its members.  They are divided into five regional offices and provide tremendous support to those affected by Parkinson’s in Slovenia. One of the programs that impressed me most is the 4 day camp that they run twice a year that provides an overview of Parkinson’s to those newly diagnosed patients and their families. They definitely have an organizational format and list of programs/services that could serve as a model for others.

My short stay in Ljubljana turned out to even exceed my high expectations.  From the time I arrived in Tivoli Park to find a handful of volunteers setting up, to the time Parkinson’s patients and families arrived by bus, to the time we started to run – the morning was more than I could have ever hoped for.

During the run, I had the real pleasure to talk to Vesna and hear first-hand what it is like to train for the Olympics, feel the pressure to perform, feel the joy of winning a medal and experience life in the Olympic village.

Whenever people thank me for visiting on this journey around the world, I try to let them know that I am sure that I am getting far more out of this than anyone else.  In Slovenia, that was particularly true.  I want to say, “Thank You!!” to all that made this event possible, with special thanks to the members of Trepetlika for the hard work and planning.  In addition to making this event possible, they work everyday to improve the lives of those with Parkinson’s and for that they deserve all the thanks in the world.


  1. Dear Dr. Mark, you ARE a World Class Athlete! You have earned the GOLD MEDAL in the PD Olympics; your passion, strength, drive, persistence, flexibility & ambition are amazing! You are an outstanding example to all (PD or not) of what can be done if you really want to! Please stay safe & return to Vegas as the winner you are; speaking for 100's of PWPs in Orange County; more blessings from Dennis & Adrienne, Huntington Beach, CA

  2. Really nice life story here. Though I'm not the Athlete. I am a traveler and you will be glad to hear that my next plan is Slovenia tour. Can you please help me in this way?

    1. Having spent only a day there for this event, I'm not a very good resource for travel recommends regarding Slovenia. However, given the areas I saw and the warmth of the people I think this is a great destination and I too, hope to return to explore the country more. Best of luck with your travels!