By Jessica King
At 43, Ramona resident Jama McCluskey is defying the odds.
The married mother of one has Parkinson’s disease, though she has no family history. She is also clearly not a man nor elderly, the other two main risk factors for contracting the neurological disorder that causes shaking and difficulty with walking, movement, and coordination.
On Saturday, McCluskey, her husband Rick, daughter Harlee, and at least three dozen other supporters — maybe up to 50 — will participate in the “Fighting Parkinson’s Step by Step 5K Walk & Run,” hosted by the Parkinson’s Association of San Diego. The event is taking place in Point Loma and McCluskey is determined to finish it despite the disease, which is most often debilitating.
“I’m going to do it even if it takes me five hours,” she said.
A 5K will be no small feat for McCluskey, whose doctor just two to three months ago told her to prepare to be confined to a wheelchair by summertime.
Thanks to medicine and a strong support system, McCluskey has made a remarkable turnaround since her doctor made that comment. She said she made the conscious decision not to be depressed anymore following what she calls a rough past year, during which it often took her a half-hour or more just to get out of bed in the morning.
She walks three times a week, takes boxing classes with her daughter, is riding horses again for the first time in years, and has yet to miss a day of work.
“I just believe in the power of family and friends,” said McCluskey. “Good medicine helps, too, but I think it only goes so far if you don’t have that strong family and friend support behind you, and I certainly do.”
McCluskey’s work consists of helping to run the family restaurant, Kenrix Sushi Co. on the west side of Main Street.
Rick describes his wife as “strong,” pointing out he doesn’t know how she does it.
“You know, there are people complaining because they have a sniffle and don’t want to work, but here she is on a daily basis,” he said. “It’s amazing, she’s amazing.”
But the ever humble McCluskey is quick to point out that she has her bad days, too. When they happen, she still goes to work but takes a break in a back office until she can get up again.
McCluskey first became ill about three years ago but it wasn’t until last year that doctors were able to give her a definitive Parkinson’s diagnosis, largely because she doesn’t have the typical risk factors.
She eventually traced the cause to childhood trauma. McCluskey said when she was just a young child, she was kicked in the head by a horse on the side of the brain affected by Parkinson’s. For some 40 years, McCluskey showed no signs of trouble until the old injury flared up. Doctors don’t yet know why old trauma flares up in this way.
By participating in this Saturday’s walk, McCluskey is helping to raise money for Parkinson’s research, in hopes of finding a cure. Participants pay $30 in advance and $35 the day of the event.
McCluskey learned of the walk from a customer at Kenrix and said she is amazed at how much not only close friends and family, but also friends of friends and restaurant customers have expressed concern and support for her.
“I wouldn’t live anywhere else,” McCluskey said of Ramona, where she has lived most her life.
Anyone and everyone is welcome to join the McCluskey family in Saturday’s walk. The McCluskeys said people who want to help but are unable to walk for any reason may drop off the $30 entry fee or more at Kenrix Sushi Co. and the family will be sure to donate it. General donations to Parkinson’s research may also be made at www.parkinsonsassociation.org.