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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Graduation trek is triumph in its own rite

 (The Spokesman-Review)
(The Spokesman-Review)
Doug Clark The Spokesman-Review

Getting through college is a long, hard climb. Anyone who has crossed that finish line will tell you that.

But sometimes getting to the graduation ceremony is pretty demanding, too.

That’s certainly the case for San Diego native Ron Israel.

The retired systems technician for Lucent Technologies hopped on his 30-speed bicycle on March 6 and began pedaling north.

The goal is to reach Spokane by the weekend of May 8. John, the youngest of the five Israel kids, will don cap and gown that Sunday as a member of Gonzaga University’s class of 2005. John leaves school with a degree in exercise science.

Ron wouldn’t miss that diploma handoff for the world.

But while crossing country via bike has been done to death, Ron’s quest is worth cheering for.

The 57-year-old is using his journey as an attempt to raise $300,000 for the battle against Parkinson’s disease plus his traveling expenses. Ron was diagnosed with this degenerative neurological disorder five years ago.

The Parkinson’s Disease Association of San Diego is handling whatever donations Ron brings in. According to the organization, those with this condition can experience a range of symptoms that include tremors, muscle stiffness, slowness in movement and difficulty with balance. Though incurable, Parkinson’s can be slowed and managed effectively with drugs.

Which is the point Ron wants to punctuate:

“The motivation fueling my journey is to inspire others living with Parkinson’s disease that they can live full and active lives.”

Despite his disease, which can make getting out of bed an ordeal, Ron has not settled for the easiest route to Spokane. He plans to cross the Cascades and cover some 2,000 butt-busting miles.

Meanwhile, back in Spokane, 21-year-old John couldn’t be prouder of the mission his dad intends to accomplish.

“It’s really cool to see something like this happen,” said the GU senior. “He’s really an inspiring guy. The last thing he would ever do is lie down and die.”

John didn’t know it at the time, but he had a lot to do with his father’s journey.

Last summer, John saved up $1,000 from his sales job and donated it to Parkinson’s research in Ron’s name.

“Man, I was in tears,” Ron told me in a telephone interview. “It was pretty inspirational to me. He really must love me.”

With his son’s example in mind, Ron began planning his ride last fall. Although confident of reaching Spokane, Ron knows he has set the money bar pretty high. But, “Whatever we make is great.”

I’m all for seeing the Zags’ hoop dreams realized. But isn’t it refreshing to see a warm and fuzzy Gonzaga story that isn’t about “March Madness”?

John knew Gonzaga was a fine place of learning, but there were other factors influencing his decision to come here.

“I had never seen it snow,” he said. The first time it did snow, “I was playing in it and making snowballs. Everybody knew I was from California.”

Give it time, kid. You’ll learn to hate it like most of us.

Ron isn’t going it alone. A neighbor, Doug Ebersole, is following the biker in his 40-foot RV. Also in the motorcade is Kathleen, Ron’s bride of 35 years.

That’s a good thing.

The other day Ron found himself slowly straining up a steep grade. Kathleen took a position at the top and encouraged him onward and upward with shouts of “Come on. You can do it!”

And he did.

Donations can be sent to the Parkinson’s Disease Association of San Diego, 8555 Aero Drive, Suite 308, San Diego, CA 92123-1746. Make sure to indicate that your gift is in support of the Ron Israel bike ride.

Learn more about Ron’s cause and adventure online at

“Don’t let anything that’s limiting you now stop you from doing what you dream,” Ron said. “There’s a lot of wonderful things out there to do. If you want to do it, do it!”

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