Nov 18, 2022 - Sports

Sisters to run Philadelphia Marathon for dad with Parkinson's disease

Sisters Naomi Giges Downey, Katy Ingulli and Melissa Giges embrace each other.

From left: Sisters Naomi Giges Downey, Katy Ingulli and Melissa Giges. Photo courtesy of Naomi Giges Downey

"Just go for it." That's the advice Marc Giges gave his three daughters growing up.

Driving the news: Naomi Giges Downey, Katy Ingulli and Melissa Giges are honoring their father's words by participating — in their own ways — in this weekend's Philadelphia Marathon.

  • Naomi and Katy will be among the thousands of runners taking part in the grueling 26.2-mile race, while sister Melissa cheers them on from different parts of the course, all to raise money for the Parkinson's Foundation.
  • It's a cause near and dear to their hearts as their father was diagnosed with the disease 11 years ago.

What they're saying: Pre-pandemic, you never would've known that Giges was afflicted by the disease, his daughters told Axios.

  • Before retiring from banking a decade ago, he'd run at the gym on lunch breaks. Giges stayed active in retirement too, obtaining a real estate license that kept him busy showing homes.
  • "He talked a little lower, and he walked a little slower," Naomi said. "And that was pretty much it."

Yes, but: The sisters said their father's condition rapidly declined during the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • Giges, an avid New York sports fan and fisherman with a playful sense of humor, coped with more falls, a constant blur of visits to hospitals and rehabilitation centers, and depression from being isolated.
  • Lately, he's been on the "upswing," the sisters said, attributing the rebound to mother Nancy, their father's caretaker and the family's rock.

The disease: About 1 million Americans and 10 million people globally are living with Parkinson's disease, according to the foundation.

  • It's the second-most common neurodegenerative condition only to Alzheimer's disease, and men are 1.5 times more likely to be diagnosed, the foundation says.

The race: The Philadelphia Marathon, which started in 1994 with about 1,500 participants, has grown into one of the nation's premier marathons, with roughly 30,000 people expected to take part in the weekend's races, including an 8K, half marathon and kids' fun run.

The preparation: Naomi, a previous marathon runner, has been training for the Philly race, while Katy, a fitness and yoga guru, hasn't. Still, Naomi expects her sister to finish ahead of her.

  • When endurance wanes, Katy and Naomi plan to carry with them an image of their father gutting it out on the recumbent bike during a recent gym visit.

The sisters also said they're driven by people's generosity, and eagerness to rally around their father's story.

  • So far, they've helped raise nearly $11,000 for the Parkinson's Foundation.

The cheering section: Giges can't make the trip to see the race because of his mobility issues and chilly temperatures expected on race day, but Melissa said her voice — not her muscles — will be sore from madly cheering her sisters along the course.

  • She also planned surprises to ensure they cross the finish line. "I have a couple things up my sleeve," she told Axios.

The sisters expect a flood of tears and a swell of pride when the race ends.

  • "You go through every single emotion," Katy said of the mental battle. "You're like, 'I hate this. I love this.'"
Tank top that says  "I Run with Dad."
Naomi and Katy's marathon tank tops include the initials of people who've helped them raise money for the Parkinson's Foundation. Photo courtesy of Naomi Giges Downey

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