Local resident to raise funds for Parkinson's during Black Mountain Marathon

Karrigan Monk
Black Mountain News
Robert Barker has run the Black Mountain Marathon every year. This year, he is raising money for the Davis Phinney Foundation for Parkinson's after his own recent diagnosis.

Robert Barker is no stranger to the Black Mountain Marathon. In fact, he has run it every year since its inception.

“The first Black Mountain Marathon in 1998 was a chance to run on the trails that I had grown up hiking and biking on,” Barker said. “It was like running in my own backyard.”

A Swannanoa Valley native, Barker graduated from Owen High School in 1972. He went on to become a local family physician, retiring in 2021.

Barker said he had taken a break from distance running, having last run the Boston Marathon in 1979. At the age of 43, he said he was ready to return to an “activity (he) loved.”

“After the first year I was hooked,” Barker said. “The sheer beauty and majesty of our local mountains is hard to beat.”

This year, though, the race will be a little different for Barker.

Two years ago, he began developing symptoms and a little over a year ago, Barker was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. According to the Mayo Clinic, the disease “is a progressive disorder that affects the nervous system and the parts of the body controlled by the nerves.” Barker said symptoms can include tremors, rigidity, muscle slowing, balance issues and fatigue.

“At first glance, it might not seem like trail running would be recommended,” Barker said. “Surprisingly, running can be a good prescription for PD. Exercise can slow down the progression.”

In order to raise awareness, Barker has partnered with the Davis Phinney Foundation for Parkinson’s for this year’s Black Mountain Marathon.

Founded by Olympic cyclist Davis Phinney in 2004, the foundation helps those diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease “live well.” According to a news release announcing the fundraiser, Parkinson’s disease affects more than one million people in the country and the foundation works to help “hundreds of thousands of individuals and families each year.”

According to the release, the Davis Phinney Foundation is a national nonprofit that “partners with events and athletes of all abilities each year, raising funds and awareness for Parkinson’s quality of life.”

Barker set his goal at $10,000 for the Feb. 25 race. As of Feb. 16, he has raised $9,592, 95% of his goal.

In 2022, Davis Phinney Foundation fundraisers raised more than $1 million to support the foundation, according to the release.

Barker said while he may have some doubts about the race, he is still going to participate.

“Our bodies change year to year,” Barker said. “Sometimes small, nagging injuries, sometimes more chronic changes. It gets harder for me, even as the climbing and distance remains the same. After all is said and done, the mountain remains a monumental challenge. I still have my doubts. However, spiritually and mentally, when we feed our faith, our doubts will starve to death.”

He said he has no plans to stop running the Black Mountain Marathon, but he will see how he feels next year.

“For now, we’ll just take it year by year,” Barker said. “It has been a setback, but has also been a blessing. It has caused me to slow down and more mindful. I am learning to live in the moment.”