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Lake Mills Triathlete Profile: Klaas van Zanten

Parkinson's Disease no match for determination

Eleven  years ago, Klaas van Zanten (45) of Johnson Creek, WI was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease. The illness is characterized by progressive damage to the nervous system and can severely affect movement. But van Zanten was determined to keep dreaming and doing. Although he considered himself "a novice when it comes to any sporting event," van Zanten was intrigued by triathlon. "The three disciplines attracted me," he said, and he began running recreationally. "Just a little bit of exercise," he said - moments dedicated to fitness that he pursued during busy days as a father of three young children ages 12, 10, and 7.

 Klaas van Zanten (right) emerges from the water at the Lake Mills Triathlon supported by his friend Jay Handy (left). (c) 2014 Focal Flame Photography. Photo credit: Josh Zytkiewicz

Klaas van Zanten (right) emerges from the water at the Lake Mills Triathlon supported by his friend Jay Handy (left). (c) 2014 Focal Flame Photography. Photo credit: Josh Zytkiewicz

Given that Klaas' condition causes challenges including momentary lack of control of his body, he wasn't sure whether he could persevere during competition. "My challenge is the swim," he said soberly.

But he was encouraged by his friend Jay Handy (51) of Madison, WI, who has competed in IronMan races while managing his own condition of diabetes. After meeting in the Madison Dutch Club (Handy's wife is Dutch, as is Klaas), he two men became buddies and began training together. "We have worked on a system where I hold his head up while he lays on his back and I side stroke along," said Handy. "It has been a rather powerful and unfolding  process between the two of us. He can propel himself for about 30 yards, then poops out, I assist for 10 yards, then he goes again."

 Klaas (left) and Jay (right) cross the finish line of the Lake Mills Triathlon, hand in triumphant hand. (c) 2014 Focal Flame Photography. Photo credit: Clint Thayer

Klaas (left) and Jay (right) cross the finish line of the Lake Mills Triathlon, hand in triumphant hand. (c) 2014 Focal Flame Photography. Photo credit: Clint Thayer

On Jun 1, 2014, Klaas and Jay emerged from the open water swim portion of the Lake Mills Triathlon with jubilant grins. Together, they had done it. Klaas continued on to the bike and run portion of the race. He finished the Lake Mills Triathlon with a total time of 1 hour, 54 minutes, and 14 seconds.

When asked what message he would want to share with others living with Parkinson's Disease, Klaas minced no words. "You need to get off your tush and start doing something, get active. Whatever it is. Move around. It’s a good thing," he said. "Choose an activity you like, one that challenges you."

And surround yourself with positive people - just like his friend Jay. 

Focal Flame Photography is honored to share the story of athletes such as Klaas who have embraced a love of sports despite personal challenges. We are proud to partner with event production firms such as Race Day Events LLC - which produces the Lake Mills Triathlon and Wisconsin Tri Series - that hold safety paramount. If you are a physically challenged athlete considering participation in any race, always contact race officials prior to registration so they will know how best to support your needs. 

- by Robyn M. Perrin