“For me it’s do better than yesterday, and that’s my mantra. To continue to push those boundaries.”- Jimmy Choi
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Jimmy Choi (@jcfoxninja) was diagnosed with Parkinson’s when he was 27. And now, at 41, he has run 13 marathons, 88 half marathons and countless other races. Most people know him as he competed in American Ninja Warriors and also as part of Team Fox, raising $250,000 for the Michael J Fox Foundation. Mark talks to him today at the Spartan Race in Lake Tahoe about training, diet and mindset. He’s an inspiration to us all by living his life with a positive mindset, dedication to helping find a cure, and passion for everything he does.
Listen to this episode to understand better how we can all do better every day.
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Hey folks, welcome back to the Unbeatable Mind podcast. My name is Mark Divine. Super stoked to have you here. My guest today is Jimmy Choi. I’m gonna introduce Jimmy a little bit more in a bit. We are up in Lake Tahoe. A beautiful area.
Jimmy: It’s beautiful here.
Mark: It’s stunning like I think this place is amazing.
Jimmy: My first time here and coming from the city of flatness in Chicago.
Mark: You’re from Chicago, yeah. what a difference.
Jimmy: This is amazing.
Mark: Yeah, and you’re here all weekend. You’re gonna be racing on Sunday with Spartan it’s the world championship. We’re meeting all sorts of cool people.
All right. And I’m cranking away on the burpees. Up to 80,000 on our way to a 100,000 if you want to support me and my team. Burpeesforvets.com. We’re trying to raise money and awareness for vets suffering from post-traumatic stress. And my tribe and I are doing 22 million burpees this year. And we’re gonna do it. Like, I think we’re at eleven million-ish.
Mark: Yeah. It’s this totally changed my year. Everyday I have to get up and crank out those 300 burpees. In fact, I know joe loves burpees… We both have a love-hate relationship with burpees… Joe DeSena I’m talking about.
Jimmy: Everybody does.
Mark: But they’re like the ultimate exercise I mean between running and burpees you pretty much don’t need much else. A few obstacles here and there.
Jimmy: I use burpees as part of my training. And I always talk about functional training. Moving with a purpose.
So, I used to fall a lot. And burpees is a controlled fall and then building to get yourself up safely. So, if I fall…
Mark: Catch yourself with your hands.
Jimmy: Catch myself and then get myself back up.
Mark: Lower yourself to the deck like a shock absorber
Mark: And then press yourself back up. Get your feet back under you.
Jimmy: And then get up and continue.
Mark: Then you can jump up, you know…
Mark: Celebrate, right that’s what a burpee is. You just described exactly. So that’s awesome. I totally am with you, 100%. It’s a tremendous total, full-body exercise and it’s got a little pain so can teach you to brace the suck a little bit.
So, Jimmy, you have a really interesting background, right? So why not–instead of me try to like read from my show notes–why don’t you tell us about your background. Especially from the challenges you had…
Jimmy: Parkinson’s exactly. So, I was diagnosed with young onset Parkinson’s when I was 27 years old.
Mark: And that’s very rare. My grandfather had Parkinson’s or my father-in-law had Parkinson’s, but he didn’t see that show up until like 85…
Jimmy: Yeah normal onset is 60 plus. And only about 10% of people diagnosed with Parkinson’s have it before the age of 60. And that’s really what young onset means.
it doesn’t mean it’s any lesser of a disease. It’s the same disease, it just means that we get it earlier.
Mark: And do they know why that happens by any chance?
Jimmy: You know what? The theories are around… It’s not that the disease is getting worse or more rampant. It’s just that we’re finally getting better at diagnosing.
Mark: I see.
Jimmy: There’s no blood test for it. And it really is trial and error with the neurologists…
Mark: Do we know what causes Parkinson’s these days yet?
Jimmy: We don’t know what causes Parkinson’s.
Jimmy: we do know that it’s environment triggers. We know that if a person a person can develop… May or may not develop Parkinson’s… But it is something that’s triggered by the environment. Okay? Whether it’s chemicals or blows to the head. Whatever it might be. There’s no exact pinpoint cause that we can say “that’s it.”
Mark: Can you in your life pinpoint a cause?
Jimmy: So, my wife and my mom believes that it’s all the football that I played back in the early 90s…
Mark: So, head injuries…
Jimmy: Back in the early nineties, we didn’t really know about precautions…
Mark: I have to tell you that my father-in-law–we pinpointed it to a fall he took. He slipped on ice and smacked his head and concussed it.
Mark: And it was after that, that his Parkinson’s started to really be noticeable. So interesting.
Jimmy: Head injuries, right? You know, Muhammad Ali. Again, it could be all the blows to the head. No one really can pinpoint it. But many different people have different backgrounds. So unfortunately, that’s why it’s so hard to find a cure. It’s so hard to diagnose. Because there’s no definitive way of saying this is why we have it.
So, I was diagnosed at a very young age. I was 27–it was back in 2003. I’m 43 today, so I’ve lived with it for almost 16 years. The first eight years of my diagnosis, I went into denial. Like many people with Parkinson’s….
Mark: You just ignored it.
Jimmy: I just ignored it. I didn’t want anything to do with it. I took a pill and I thought that that pill was gonna allow me to live a normal life.
But then, sure enough, as time went on, the disease progressed. It got to the point where I was let’s active with everything that I was doing. Simply because of the difficulty in moving.
Mark: So, it showed up in difficulty walking or…
Jimmy: Walking–I mentioned I was a falling a lot.
Mark: My father-in-law had like really shaky hands from it and stuff like that.
Jimmy: So, by the time that the tremors show up, we’ve already lost about 60 to 70 percent of our ability to produce dopamine.
Jimmy: Yeah, so by the time the tremors show up, chances are a person with Parkinson’s already had it for a long time. Just didn’t just didn’t realize it.
Mark: Now tell us why that’s significant with regards to the dopamine.
Jimmy: Well dopamine is a chemical produced by the brain. Essentially it transfers signals to your muscles from your brain. And when you lack that signal, it makes it really hard to control the muscles to its full range of motion and its full capacity.
So, a lot of times in people with Parkinson’s you’ll see shuffling. You’ll see the tremors. Simply because the muscles are getting confused and mixed signals. Or not getting the right, correct signals from the brain, and the muscles are just they don’t know what to do with themselves.
Jimmy: The slowness of movement. Rigidity. Just feels like a cramp all the time.
Jimmy: And of course, loss of balance. Because now your muscles are moving at different paces. You could be one side affected, you could be both side affected. It’s just many different flavors. And when you know a person that’s been diagnosed with Parkinson’s, there’s a saying that you’ve only known one person that’s been diagnosed with Parkinson’s. Because the symptoms vary so much. No one experiences the same.
Mark: Really? Okay. Interesting.
So, you went into denial for six years, you said…
Jimmy: Eight years. Yep.
Mark: What was it that caused you… Like, what was the turning point? What was it that caused you to like wake up and say “screw that. I’m doing something different.”
Jimmy: So, you know, I think anybody facing adversity, there’s always that…
Mark: A-ha. Come to Jesus moment.
Jimmy: Yeah, exactly. That rock bottom moment, right? And mine was carrying my infant son down the stairs.
This was back in 2010. I was carrying my son down the stairs and I decided to leave my cane and I would use the railing as a clutch. However, that didn’t work out so well. Both of us went tumbling down a full flight of stairs.
It was witnessed by my wife and my daughter. My daughter was only 2 at the time.
And the entire way down the stairs I try to keep my son above my body, taking as much of the blow to my own body as I can.
And I realized at the bottom of the stairs that I wasn’t helping my family. I was becoming a safety hazard. And I was becoming more of a problem for my wife. And we already have to raise a family with young kids–now she has to deal with me. That is not the life that I intended to lead. And that’s not the life I wanted to live.
Mark: And physically, what was your condition at that point?
Jimmy: So, at that point, I was walking with a cane because I kept losing balance. I experienced tremors…
But my most predominant symptom of Parkinson’s was dystonia or rigidity. Again, so what that is for me, it’s like living with a cramp 24 hours a day.
Mark: Do you still have that?
Jimmy: I do. But what I found since 2010 is that I’ve used exercise as a way to combat Parkinson’s. And building strength, and building muscle memory–helps me combat the rigidity. Now whenever someone gets a cramp, what’s the first thing you do? You stretch it out.
Jimmy: So, I’m not saying that… I’m not comparing that to our Parkinson’s dystonia, but I used that same idea that when my arm is locked up, right? Move it to relax it, to get out of that state. And the stronger you are, the more you train the counter-muscles to pull yourself out. The better chance you have of coming out of it.
Mark: So, after you were at the bottom of the stairs, you basically… That was your bottom… Jimmy: That was my bottom…
Mark: The bottom of the stairs was your bottom.
Starting to Exercise
Mark: And so, did you decide then to start exercising? Or did you start investigating…? Or what happened then?
Jimmy: The first thing that I needed to do is finally educate myself on the disease. For the first eight years I didn’t learn anything about it.
Jimmy: So, the first thing I decided “you know what? Maybe I should learn about what I’m dealing with. Then that way I can come up with a plan to combat it.”
And I did what any anybody would do. Which is get on an internet search for that cure, right? But it wasn’t out there.
But what I did notice is that there are a lot of clinical trials. And they were all starving for participants. So, I decided that was gonna be my first step. I was gonna give my body up to help scientists find a cure. I’m not smart enough to find a cure myself. I certainly can’t fund it…
Mark: Yeah, what do you got to lose right? That would be my mindset. What do we have to lose? I’ll be a clinical trial. Maybe they’ll find something. And I’ll be the guinea pig.
Jimmy: And I’ll be the first one to be cured. If I happened to be in the right trial. But what I found out after being involved in trial after trial is that there is a common theme to all these trials. And that was physical activity.
Whether it’s… Even if it’s just a questionnaire. How much exercise do you do? Do you move or there are trials where they involve treatments and there’s physical therapy involved? And almost every single trial participated has some type of physical activity related to it.
And then when I got involved in the trial that had a forced movement physical therapy, I realized that at the end of those sessions, I felt a little bit better.
O I started adding physical activity to my daily home activities and routine.
Mark: And that looked like physical therapy probably at first.
Jimmy: Yes, exactly. So, I started just walking around the block right with my with family but you know what after a while that one time around the block became twice around the block.
And that became three times and then I left my cane at home and I started walking without my cane. And sooner or later I’m building a lot of confidence in the way that I move. And I noticed that “you know what? Hey, the more I’m doing, the more confidence I’m getting, the better I’m doing. I’m just gonna keep pushing this boundary, this envelope.
Jimmy: And the walking became jogging. I jog for a minute, and then walk for a minute. And then I’ll jog for another minute. And then that became continuous jogging. And then I started running.
Next thing you know I was doing a mile. And then one day I was sitting on an airplane getting ready to take a business trip. And there was a runner’s world magazine in the back pocket just staring at me. Right this is when I was starting to…
Mark: “open me up. There’s something here for me
Jimmy: And I opened it up. There’s an article in there about a gentleman with Parkinson’s running a marathon.
Mark: Oh cool.
Jimmy: And I read that article when I was on the plane. As soon as I got off the plane, I called my wife. I said “honey, I think I’m gonna run a 5k.” because I’d never done a 5k up to that point, and this guy’s doing marathons. It’s like “if he can do a marathon, I can do a 5k.”
Mark: Isn’t that cool? When people blaze the path and you like… I had that thought when I went from when I decided to be seal. I said there’s people who’ve been seals, I can do this. Someone else has done it… Even if it’s just one person, why not me?
Jimmy: Exactly. Why not me? So, I focused and trained and I completed my first 5k in 2012. And just didn’t stop there.
Mark: So how was that experience?
Jimmy: It was incredible. First takeaway for me was finishing a 5k shouldn’t be such a big deal. Right?
But for a person with Parkinson’s it was. It’s a big deal and then along the way during training, friends and family would support me and cheer me on. And really it was for the first time that I realized that “hey, you know what? I’m doing something that’s making me physically stronger. And I’m doing something that’s making me mentally happier.”
Mark: And it’s making your family stronger and it’s making life… And that makes it a lot easier to support you and vice-versa.
Oh my god. The whole system is getting stronger.
Jimmy: Exactly. And what I’m doing is I’m building this circle of trust, or the circle of people around me, that is going to help me get to the next level. And I just kept pushing the boundaries.
I always like to say that my runner’s high was just beginning at that point. And I just kept pushing the boundaries. Just because I can do a 5k doesn’t mean I can’t do more. So, I was doing a 10k a couple months later. And I did my first half marathon in that same year, just a few months after my first 5k.
Jimmy: I crossed the finish line of that first half marathon, and I knew right away that I was gonna try to run a marathon. And I wanted to do one in Chicago. It’s where I live and in my hometown. And the Chicago marathon was literally just weeks away.
Mark: No kidding? Oh my god, you didn’t waste any time, did you?
Jimmy: I’m like “you know what? I’m gonna do it, I’m just gonna I’m just go and do it. Now I was still new to running. Who knew that 40,000 people were signing up for to punish themselves for 26 miles? And there was no bibs left for that race. But I searched online.
Mark: These big marathons are hard to get into nowadays.
Jimmy: Hard to get into. Chicago marathon’s 40,000 runners.
Jimmy: But the good thing is there’s charity partners. So, I went and I found the Michael J Fox foundation. And I thought who best to run for and with than the fox foundation? But being so close to the marathon I figured there’s no way that they could have any bibs left.
So, I called them up. There was one.
Mark: No kidding.
Jimmy: And I felt – I feel to this day that one had my name on it.
Mark: Did you ever get to meet Michael Fox?
Jimmy: I have. So ever since that race I raise money for the foundation for that race to get in. I’ve been involved – heavily involved with the foundation ever since. I’ve done one ultra-marathon, 15 marathons, and over a hundred half marathons since 2012. And doing all that I was raising money for the Michael J Fox foundation.
Mark: How long was the ultra that you did?
Jimmy: It was a fifty-mile.
Mark: No kidding.
Jimmy: Yeah. One and done.
Mark: (laughing) no need to do that again.
Jimmy: Yeah, no need to do that again.
But I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Michael on several occasions…
Mark: He seems like a pretty neat guy and he’s done so much for Parkinson’s
Jimmy: He has done so much for raising awareness and the advice that he’s given me he was early onset, like myself. He was diagnosed in the 20s. We have a lot in common in that sense.
But he’s been a mentor for all of us in the community. And every time I meet him and every time I see him there’s always a smile on his face.
Mark: That’s awesome.
Jimmy: And he’s always willing to help. And no matter what we’re doing in terms of fundraising efforts, the Fox Foundation is there just to lend their helping hand. And I couldn’t be happier and more proud to be associated with that group.
Mark: That’s awesome.
Jimmy: And doing all these events, my daughter – she was really into… She was only eight at the time, 9 at the time. She was really into American Ninja Warrior and she was bugging me…
Mark: Oh yeah? Did you get her into that?
Jimmy: Well, so she was into the obstacle course, right? And she bugged me every time. Say “hey dad, you should try to get on this show. And I was telling her “I have Parkinson’s. I have balance issues.”
But then in 2016, she saw a competitor Allison Toepperwein compete for the first time. She has Parkinson’s and she was on the show.
Mark: No kidding.
Jimmy: And even before her story was done my daughter turned to me says “what’s your excuse?”
Mark: (laughing) that’s awesome.
Jimmy: So that’s kind of introduced me to the world of obstacle course, you know?
Mark: Did you do the ninja warrior?
Jimmy: I did. I applied and totally not expecting to get on. And they called me and said “hey we’re gonna give you a shot.”
So, I competed in 2017, and again in 2018.
Mark: Oh fun.
Jimmy: And it was a lot of fun. And then it was going back to Michael in 2017 – right before I went on, right on the jumbotron they put a message from Michael. A recorded message from Michael to me, wishing me luck. And I just happened to be a guy that was standing up there with the camera in front of me. Michael would have done it for anybody. If it was someone else up there raising awareness, he would have done it for anybody else. And that’s just the type of guy that he is.
Mark: And you found Spartan races after that?
Jimmy: Yeah. I was runner before that, and then I went from one extreme – just running, to the other extreme – just obstacle courses. Why not mash the two together?
Mark: Right, why not?
Jimmy: So, my daughter and I started to do Spartan races together…
Mark: And how old is she now?
Jimmy: She’s 11 now. So, she’ll be racing as well this weekend in the kids race. And you know, we have a lot of fun training together.
Mark: What’s the biggest challenge you have with the obstacle racing?
Jimmy: Well you know for me it’s… I never know what my symptoms are gonna be any given day.
Mark: So, they change?
Jimmy: They do change. And they come and go as they please. So, if I’m having trouble… I’ve done Spartan races where I walk the entire thing, right? Because my leg just wasn’t cooperating. I drag it along.
I’ve done Spartan obstacles where my hands wouldn’t close.
Jimmy: And I’ve got to get through these obstacles with that. So, I’ll have to hang for a little bit longer to get these things done. And for me…
Mark: So, you just don’t know until you start racing?
Jimmy: I just don’t know until I start racing any given day. I’ve done races now because I have to take my medicine in the middle of a race some times. You get into a pit of mud… So, this was at the Chicago Beast just a couple of weeks ago… Water got into my medicine pack and my meds completely dissolved. I couldn’t take them.
Mark: Wow. But you still had to finish.
Jimmy: I still have to finish the race. So, I have to rely on muscle memory and my training to get me through the rest of the race. Because I can’t rely on my medicine, right?
Mark: And what are… The meds just subdue the symptoms a little bit?
Jimmy: So, they mask the symptoms. And it’s a synthetic dopamine. So, it allows me to get the signals across.
But you know a lot of times, the medicine actually brings side-effects that are just as debilitating as the symptoms itself. You just have to make the choice. What kind of symptoms do you want today to get you through what you’re trying to do?
Mark: Have you had your dopamine tested? Has all the physical training done anything for your natural dopamine production?
Jimmy: You know, so I haven’t had it you know tested per se, but I know just from feeling, if I don’t exercise more than a couple of days, I do feel my body is slowing down and just being sluggish. I think with all of the endurance activity that I do – I truly believe that I train my brain to produce more of things that it may or may not need.
So other things that are good replacements for dopamine is endorphins and adrenaline. These are things that come about when you do endurance and challenge yourself. And put yourself in situations where…
Jimmy: It’s scary. Exactly. Thank you. So, I think putting myself – constantly putting myself in in those situations, my brain is always thinking “hey jimmy could anytime get up and try to run 26 miles. Let’s be ready for that.”
So, I do believe that my system is readying my body for anything at anytime. But I do realize that sometimes when Parkinson’s symptoms is just bad for a couple of days and I don’t do as much – the body goes back to itself.
Mark: What about nutrition? How does that play into it?
Jimmy: You know, nutrition plays a huge role. I mean, I weighed 240 pounds at one point. I was walking with a cane. It’s really a commitment to change. Not just in the physical aspects…
Mark: It’s hard to imagine by the way. 240. Because you’re probably like 175 right now?
Jimmy: I’m right about 170.
Mark: Yeah. Lean mean machine, I might add.
Jimmy: I’m trying to stay lean. I like to say I have wrinkles in the right places. So, you know nutrition plays a huge role, because you can do all the exercise you want, but if you’re eating pizza and fried chicken every day…
Mark: Right. What’s your nutrition look like now?
Jimmy: So, it’s clean eating. And I’ll be the first to admit it. I’ll have ice cream.
Mark: You’re not perfect.
Jimmy: No, I’m not perfect.
Mark: They call that the 80/20 rule. As long as you’re doing 80% well…
Jimmy: Everything in moderation, right? I mean, I love my in-n-out burgers right/
Mark: In-n-out’s just…
Jimmy: Right. But you can’t have that every meal. But I think I try to stay clean. Whole foods. Clean foods.
Mark: Have you explored ketogenesis and intermittent fasting and those things.
Jimmy: I have actually. It was actually my second season competing American Ninja Warrior. I am twice the age of most of these competitors. And I am heavier than they are.
They’re all 130 pounds, 140 pounds.
And I’m sitting at 170. And part of my attempt to get my weight down last year was going on a keto diet.
Couple of things I’ve learned from going on the keto diet and living with Parkinson’s. Number one is that the diet really changed the way my mind works.
Mark: Right. Because you’re producing ketones. Your brain is getting the right amount of fat, now your brain’s producing ketones…
Jimmy: Absolutely. I was thinking a lot clearer. And with Parkinson’s we have what we call the Parkinson’s fog. And I did feel a lot better, a lot clearer in a head when I was on keto.
The downside of keto and Parkinson’s, is that the meds I’m taking… Absorption of the meds is prohibited by protein intake.
Jimmy: So, I have to tie my meds with my meals so that it is almost 45 minutes to an hour apart when I eat and when I…
Mark: Do you have to take the meds when you eat or not when you don’t eat…
Jimmy: A lot of people do, but for me one of the side effects is stomach nausea. But luckily, I don’t have that side effect, so that doesn’t affect me as much.
But for other people listening who might have that symptom and they’re thinking about keto, you just got to be very careful. Because protein…
Mark: It would be cool to see a study with Parkinson’s and keto over a long period of time. Now to get your mind to be always consuming the fat and the ketones. And to see what would happen to the dopamine right?
Jimmy: And for me I think I was performing mind-wise, clarity-wise, I was performing better when I was on keto. And even during that time I was still strength training and I was still running half marathons. And the energy delivery is completely different than what I was used to.
Jimmy: But you know, I think at the end of the day, keto is a hard, very hard lifestyle to maintain. And with two young kids and my wife and actually I’m the person that prepares the meals in the household. It just became difficult.
But I still keep a very high fat, high protein, low carb diet. Just modified in a way. Again, everything is clean in terms of my nutrition.
Mark: Nice. What does your training plan look like? I mean you’re racing all the time so what is it… On a non-race day, what do you do to train?
Jimmy: So, my typical training is at least two sessions a day. One is a strength training session and another session is endurance.
Mark: Strength training using barbells and normal strength training equipment?
Jimmy: Nowadays its mostly calisthenics. Mostly bodyweight things. CrossFit. I use CrossFit. Even though there’s weights involved in CrossFit I don’t load heavy. I try to make clean repetitions. Good form it’s very important for a person with Parkinson’s to have good form. Full range of motion. As we mentioned that there’s that that shortness of muscle memory, so to build that muscle memory, to have that full range of motion is very important.
Mark: Squat cleans and thrusters and burpees.
Jimmy: You’re naming all my nemesis, but to have that full range of motion, not only does it keep your body loose and stretched out. But it also helps you with the ability to move correctly. And maintaining right form will certainly help you maintain balance on a daily basis living with Parkinson’s.
So, I do a session a day with either calisthenics or some type of CrossFit high-intensity interval training. And then I will follow that up a little bit later in a day with endurance – so a run. Usually three to six miles on any given day. If I’m training for longer distances, I’ll have long runs, but I always try to keep up with at least three to five or six miles. Nice okay so that’s my typical day…
Mark: And you do that’s seven days a week?
Jimmy: Six days a week. I do give myself a rest day. One and a half rest days, Sunday is a rest day where I’m just active recovery moving around walking. Wednesday is usually a single session instead of two. And much lighter weights. To try to give myself a rest.
Mark: Okay, that’s nice. So functional movement. Moving everyday. Eating whole foods, clean diets do you eat three meals a day? Like what’s the quantity…?
Jimmy: I eat when I’m hungry.
Mark: Yeah, so I was getting at that. Cause I think that’s important. Like, generally, I think people eat just too much. And they eat too often. Because we’re always snacking. And then you’re always spiking that insulin.
Jimmy: Exactly. So, I’m constantly hungry. So, I’m just kind fueling my body with what it needs. And you know I still have your standard three meals, but I snack in between. But try not to overdo it. And in my meals itself, I try to not to overdo it.
Mark: You don’t go back for seconds?
Jimmy: I can’t say never, but usually I have a plan that… Especially during training – peak training seasons – I have a plan of what I eat and I stick to it. And then of course I still got to take care of my family. Make sure that they get what they need.
Mark: Do you have a trainer or are you on your own?
Jimmy: I have a care team. My care team consists of my movement disorder specialist – also known as a neurologist – that specializes in Parkinson’s.
Mark: “movement disorder specialist.” that’s a heck of a title.
Jimmy: It is.
Mark: You could come up with a more positive term there, I think. How about just “movement specialist?”
Jimmy: I like that.
Mark: Tell him I said to drop the “disorder” out of his title.
Jimmy: You know that’s a good point. And then I also have as part of my care team I have trainers – not necessarily personal trainers – I have people that I train with that specialize in the different disciplines that I do. So, running, I have a trainer that specializes in running that I can bounce ideas off of. Of course, high-intensity interval training, I have another person. Obstacle course – I have a group of people that I can turn to. They’re in the American Ninja Warrior community and those guys are just great.
And of course, Cross Fitting.
Mark: CrossFit’s a great community.
Jimmy: Yeah and I turn to that. And of course, Spartan racing. So, you know I like to call it my “care team.” you know not necessarily one or two people, but…
Mark: I think that principle though is so key. Instead of every… First of all, everyone needs a trainer, or a coach, or a mentor. Trying to do it alone is a recipe for frustration at least.
But if you can have a team… Cause SEALFIT, we’re all about team like we don’t do… If we want to do anything really well, we need a team. Doing it alone is… It’s a myth that you’re gonna do well alone.
Jimmy: You need to have the expertise of the different disciplines that you’re trying to get better at.
Mark: And you need the accountability and the inspiration. You know, you fall down seven times – the person that’s gonna pick you up on the eighth time is a teammate.
Jimmy: Exactly. Absolutely.
Mental Skills and Management
Mark: Let’s talk about mental… Like the mental skills or habits that you’ve developed. Like do you have a mantra that you rely on when you’re racing? Or how do you control your mind and your emotions?
Jimmy: You know for me it’s “do better than yesterday.”
Jimmy: And that’s my mantra is to continue to push those boundaries. I think once you’ve done something over and over again, it no longer becomes scary. It becomes routine.
Mark: Then it becomes routine. So, you got a do something, to do it better. Push harder or try something new.
Jimmy: Exactly. So, if you’re not continuously pushing yourself. Like if I’m doing, you know… Let’s go back to the burpees example – if I’m not doing 30 burpees – if I can do 30 today, I’m doing 31 tomorrow.
Mark: Right. Pretty soon you’ll be up to 300 with me.
Jimmy: Exactly. And the same thing with running right? If I’m doing a mile today, I’m doing 1.1 tomorrow, right? You just keep pushing that boundary.
Strength training is another. Obstacle course racing. So competing on American Ninja Warrior… I can name just about every single other ninja out there that are that are better than I am. But how do I get myself to their level? You learn from them and we’re pushing each other, so even if you’re just dead-hanging, right? If I can hang on a bar for four and a half minutes, maybe I can hang on a bar tomorrow for four minutes and 45 seconds. You know I’ve gotten myself up to about seven minutes now.
Mark: That’s pretty incredible. My grip strength has gotten weak because I had this weird thing called the Dupuytren’s syndrome. There’s like a knot there.
So even hanging for a couple minutes is hard. It’s all grip strength, forearm strength, tensile strength.
Good for you.
Jimmy: And it’s just keep pushing…
Mark: Keep going. You’ve given me some inspiration there. I gotta work on that.
Jimmy: Doing something more today than I did yesterday.
Mark: What about when you really, really, really hit the wall? Like then what do you tell yourself to break through?
Jimmy: Well then I turn to my community. My family. I think about them.
Mark: So, they’re in your mind.
Mark: Your teammates are… This is a really important point, as I’ve talked about this before… Is that you can carry your teammates around in your mind. And then call on them for help. And they’re there for you.
Jimmy: They’re there.
Mark: They’re there for you, aren’t they?
Mark: That’s cool.
Jimmy: They are. The moment I fell down the stairs with my son… I mean that moment’s in my head all the time…
Mark: So, you got that to go back to. That and your imagery. Like, okay go back to that night and it can always be worse.
Jimmy: It can always be worse. And then you can actually go… That’s interesting thing that you brought that up, because going back to Michael – one of the things that he always says is “there’s always someone else that has it worse than you.”
Mark: Right. Get out of your own pity party.
Jimmy: And it’s a mental mindset, you know? So, I always draw from my friends and family. The community that I’ve learned… That I’ve gotten in touch with over the years. Whether or not it’s the Parkinson’s community, the CrossFit community, the ninja warrior community, or the Spartan community. Everybody there is pushing each other. That we’re always trying to lift each other up.
And whatever I’m doing. If I’m in the middle of a Spartan beast and I’m just climbing up a route with um with a bucket – with a 50-pound bucket. And my thighs are burning, my arms are burning…
Mark: You can’t quit because if community’s there. You’re doing it for them. I love that
Jimmy: Exactly. There’s somebody there that’s pushing you along in the back of my head. And if I’m hanging on an obstacle, and you know, all my training friends they’re like “come on. One more. Just get one more. One more move. One more move. One more step. One more rep. Whatever it might be.”
And that’s… When I get stuck it’s just one more step. Every step you take, you’re closer to that finish line.
Mark: Yeah, one step at a time.
Do you have any type of meditation practice?
Jimmy: So, people ask me that all the time. And I think my meditation practice – everybody has their own flavor – you know, I’ve tried yoga, I’ve tried Tai Chi, I’ve tried various different forms, but I think for me it’s my ability to… When I’m out on… Whenever I’m training…
Mark: Through movement.
Jimmy: Through movement. I think that’s my meditation. Especially if I’m on a long run or a ride.
Mark: And you click and into a flow state. And then you’re there.
Jimmy: You click into the flow state and your mind just empties. And you just think about nothing. But everything becomes clear.
And you know what’s great about those moments? Those moments sometimes I forget that I have Parkinson’s.
Mark: Yes. I bet.
Jimmy: And you’re just moving. You’re just going and flowing. And sometimes that feeling is second-to-none.
Mark: Mm. Yeah. I love that. (laughter) man.
You know what, ultimately we are just energy at our most basic level right? And when your mind gets into those states – those timeless states – you’re in the flow state right? You don’t have Parkinson’s. That’s just a label. You are pure energy.
Mark: I’m just going out on a limb here, but that’s my experience. It’s pure energy. And then that energy can be experienced as love, it could be experienced as god. It can be experienced it’s just bliss. And you can come back to that. Remember that.
Jimmy: And I watched for years my grandmother do Tai Chi, right?
Mark: I’ve got a Tai Chi practice. It’s beautiful.
Jimmy: It’s awesome.
Mark: Are you Chinese?
Jimmy: I am. Yeah. So, you know I always joke about this…
Mark: Such a gift to the world.
Jimmy: Just like everything in the 70s, I was made in Taiwan. The younger generation don’t get that joke anymore, but I was made in Taiwan.
Mark: Now everything’s made in china
Jimmy: Now everything’s made in china. But I grew up and I was born and I grew up in Taiwan.
Mark: Okay. So technically you’re Taiwanese.
Jimmy: I’m Taiwanese.
Mark: The Chinese would say you’re Chinese.
Jimmy: Exactly. But I grew up watching my grandma do Tai Chi. And she lived too until she was 96 years old. And she beat breast cancer. She beat lung cancer. She beat ovarian cancer. And she’s had her ovaries taken out. She’s had her breasts removed.
Mark: Jiminy cricket!
Jimmy: She’s had parts of her lungs removed. And she battled through all that. And lived to be 96. And I got to think that all the Tai Chi that she used to do has something to do with that.
Mark: For sure, right.
Jimmy: It’s the body flow, the energy. Even though I never got into that myself…
Mark: But this movement… It’s mindful movement like we’ve been talking about. It gets the energy flowing. It gets the chi flowing.
Mark: And once that flows you know then it moves through blockages. And then once those blockages go away, then the energy flows freely. And that’s a beautiful thing. And that’s longevity and how…
Jimmy: Yeah, and back 2012 when I finished my first marathon. I was only a handful of people with Parkinson’s that are able to do that you know? And I thought I was special right?
I know different now. I learned so much more in the community… That I’ve gotten to know around the Parkinson’s community, I can sit here for hours and tell you about people who have done incredible things living with Parkinson’s. Nowadays every time there’s a marathon, there’s at least you know eight, nine, ten other people with Parkinson’s out there.
Mark: So, I know that obviously a lot of people with Parkinson’s are inspired by what you do. Do you have a more active way…? Maybe it’s through the Michael fox foundation or something… How do you help people get off the couch, get out of the pity party, and start moving their body?
Jimmy: You know, every chance that I get… Whether or not it’s on American Ninja Warrior where there’s a platform to reach millions of people at one shot… Or speaking at a conference, or people that follow me on social media. Every time I make a post I try to throw a little bit of Parkinson’s education. A lot of people look at me and say “well you’re not typical Parkinson’s patient because you can do all these things. And most people with Parkinson’s can’t.”
Mark: And the point you’re making is you’re just like them
Mark: And they could be just like you.
Jimmy: Exactly. They could be just like me. And I try to… If I post a video of training, I will also put in some notes about how Parkinson’s is affecting certain parts of that training. And what am I doing to help to overcome that. And so, they can see it in the video and they can see my thoughts. And hopefully that can inspire and move people. I always say now that you might have a movement disorder, but that doesn’t mean you can’t move.
Mark: Yeah, absolutely. Everybody can move.
Jimmy: Everybody can move. And it’s a gift. Everybody takes that for granted. But that’s what you got to do.
Mark: I agree. Everyone needs to move. You know, I have this theory that your mind and your body are really one thing. And if you don’t move your body, then you’re limiting your mind. Like dramatically limiting the experience of life.
Jimmy: And there’s something to be said about that. Because anybody that you’ve asked that spends time exercising and training, they will tell you that their mind is clear. Especially doing certain types of exercise. Things that they might enjoy more than others.
Whether you’re riding a bike. Whether you’re doing burpees, right? Or you’re running. There’s certain movements that people… They just enjoy more. And when they’re in those movements, and they’re in that moment their mind is clear, they feel better about themselves.
Mark: Also, the brain creates new neuro-plastic pathways. And there was a great book we came on a couple years ago I forget the author “Spark.”
Jimmy: Yes, I read that book.
Mark: Yes. Great right? So, to me it was like “oh yeah cool. Finally, someone’s proving what athletes know naturally or intuitively. Is that through the movement – especially variety of movement – that’s why CrossFit is so stimulating the brain and Tai Chi and learning new always doing something new. Well guess what?
You’re strengthening your mind. You’re creating new pathways. You’re creating new regions for dopamine and epinephrine and everything to flow.
And it enhances your experience of life. That’s what I mean. The movement and also your senses and the sensitivity of your nervous system is enhanced. And so, you begin to experience life not just cognitively, but also sensationally. And you grow.
Jimmy: Yep. People ask me can you really tell the difference? When you’re doing strength?
Yes, I can. To make the shift from purely endurance – just running and cycling – to obstacle course, that’s a big shift in the way I train. And what has it done for me living with Parkinson’s?
When I was running, I was building endurance. In people with Parkinson’s, we get crashes. Just fatigue. Sometimes it just hits you. I feel that by training myself with endurance, those fatigue moments become less and less.
Jimmy: But now as I’m strength training, right? Now I’m dealing with other… I’m better equipped to deal with other areas of Parkinson’s. I mentioned the rigidity and dystonia, where it feels like your body’s just cramped up. I made myself stronger and I can move better, despite the rigidity. So different things that I’m doing, I can certainly feel that when I change my when my training focus strictly from endurance to more strength training, I can feel it right?
And I know my body, I think, better than others who may not put the time in the training. And I always tell people, if you put the time in, you put the commitment in, and you train, you too can have that awareness in your body. And that goes to how the mind is connected to how you…
Mark: Comes natural.
Mark: Awesome. Day by day in every way we get better and better.
Jimmy: Exactly what can you do tomorrow that’s better than today?
Mark: Yeah, awesome.
Jimmy: Keep pushing away.
Mark: How do people find out about you? What’s the best place for people to find out more about what you do?
Jimmy: So, they can find me on Facebook, or Instagram @jcfoxninja. I was dubbed the fox ninja because both my both my appearances on American Ninja Warrior I did it on behalf of the Michael J Fox Foundation to raise awareness for Parkinson’s. So, I’ve been dubbed the fox ninja. So, my handle is @jcfoxninja.
Or you can find me on my own personal website which is thefoxninja.com.
Mark: Awesome. I love that.
Jimmy: Thank you.
Mark: So, thanks for doing what you’re doing. I’ll call out to Michael J Fox and his foundation also for all the work they’ve done in awareness and helping people like you heal. Got this insidious issue.
Jimmy: You know, there’s no cure for Parkinson’s today. But there’s definitely a lot of momentum going. And if your listeners and viewers are interested, michaeljfox.org for more information. And we love all the support we can get.
Mark: Awesome. Well we definitely support you and thank you for being here today. And thanks for being who you are, Jimmy.
Jimmy: Thank you, thank you. I appreciate it.
Mark: You rock man. Hooyah.
Awesome. Wow, what an interesting… Sometimes I’m just like… Nothing to say. There’s nothing left to say. I really honor you for your work.
Jimmy: Thank you. I appreciate it.
Mark: And for pushing through, you know? That’s cool.
Jimmy: And you as well. Yeah, continue spreading the good word. You’re sharing stories of everybody else and for what you believe in and what you do and…
Mark: Yeah, we’re all in this together. Trying to make yourselves better, and the world better
Jimmy: One person at a time.
Mark: One person at a time. We all feel a sense of urgency around that too, I think. You know what I mean?
Jimmy: Absolutely, absolutely.
Mark: So, planet needs us and humanity needs every one of us to be unbeatable and to step up and take responsibility for our lives. And be the best version of ourselves. And then to serve profoundly like jimmy is out there, so that we can we can all make this planet and this place. And humanity a little bit more kind and compassionate and connected. You know what I mean?
Mark: It’s just… Of course, I don’t read the news, but I scan the headlines and I’m just like what the heck? Are you serious?
Jimmy: Let’s get the better… Let’s get the good stories out there.
Mark: Let’s get the good stories out there. And let’s get 10% of humanity talking the way we’re talking and it’ll change.
Jimmy: Yeah absolutely.
Mark: Hooyah. All right folks. Thanks for paying attention – either watching or listening to the Unbeatable Mind podcast. Super appreciate it. Humbled by your attention and keep doing what you do. Stay focused, train hard, do the daily work, be better every day. Just a little bit 1%.
See you next time.