Man with Parkinson’s Sets Sights on IRONMAN Race

By Drew Munhausen

Just over five years ago, Matt Kintzele noticed a twitch in his left thumb. Over time, the twitch got worse and slowly progressed into his hand. Kintzele, at age 46, was diagnosed with early onset Parkinson’s disease.

“I was active before my diagnosis, exercising about three times a week,” Kintzele said. “But as the disease started to progress, I thought my running days might be over. I was having problems simply walking fast. And Parkinson’s makes you brutally tired. I was taking naps every day.”

The medications for the disease helped with Kintzele’s mobility, but came with several side effects – primarily dyskinesia. Dyskinesia is involuntary, erratic movements of the face, arms, legs or trunk. They are not a symptom of Parkinson’s itself, but rather a complication caused by some Parkinson’s medications.

“I quickly realized that exercising helped the most with the side effects,” Kintzele said. “I upped my workouts from every other day to every day. It gave me the energy I used to have. I started to get serious about my other goals and I set my sights on an IRONMAN.”

Now 51, Kintzele has completed three half marathons over the past two years. His goal was ultimately to compete in the IRONMAN 70.3 Hawaii, a half IRONMAN in Honu, Hawaii. However, his training was cut short when he experienced a pulled hamstring.

Kintzele’s physician referred him to the Memorial Hermann IRONMAN Sports Medicine Institute to do physical therapy on his hamstring. His therapists use techniques like blood-flow restriction training to help with his hamstring and overall condition.

“Matt has great foundational strength and conditioning,” said Taylor Cole, a board certified sports physical therapist with Memorial Hermann IRONMAN Sports Medicine Institute. “He reported decreased power while pushing off of his affected leg, which was a possible result of Parkinson’s, and I noted decreased power and endurance of that calf muscle at his evaluation. We worked on force production and rate of force development with running-specific exercises, and slowly incorporated more explosive movements as he got stronger. I didn’t have to alter my treatment style because of his medical diagnosis. I believe this speaks to Matt’s dedication to exercise and ownership of his health – he has made it a priority to stay in shape to improve his quality of life and manage the side effects of his medication.”

Kintzele has also inspired his family members to become more active. Kintzele’s wife, Kelly, was never a runner, but in the past year has completed both a 5k and a 10k.

Kintzele’s eyes are now set on the Memorial Hermann IRONMAN Texas, which takes place on April 25, 2020. After a five-month hiatus due to a pulled hamstring, he is back to training.

“The one message I have for all those who suffer from Parkinson’s is not to underestimate the importance of exercise in slowing progression, improving energy levels, decreasing tremors and reducing side effects of Parkinson’s medications,” Kintzele said. “There’s a lot that Parkinson’s takes away from you, but I made the choice to run and it gave me those things back. My body works right when I am running. It just feels great. To feel like something has been taken away from you and then to get it back…it’s a pretty special feeling.”

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