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Al Lauland, left, and Scott Vanderstelt, right.

Al Lauland

Al Lauland

Scott Vanderstelt


Team Troll

West Olive, Michigan 49460

Scott VanderStelt

When Team Troll founder Scott VanderStelt's father was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in 2010, it came as a shock.

"It freaked me out," VanderStelt said. "I didn't know anything about Parkinson's. All I knew at the time was that actor Michael J. Fox had it."

Each year, approximately 60,000 Americans are diagnosed with Parkinson's, a degenerative disorder of the nervous system. Symptoms include tremors, slowness of movement, stiffness, and impaired balance. There is no cure, but it can be managed with medications and, in some cases, surgery. Left untreated, the disease can progress aggressively in its early stages.

After researching Parkinson's, VanderStelt, a 41-year-old transportation manager for a Walker area company, decided to spring into action. At the time, he was just getting into mountain biking, adding it to the list of outdoor activities he already enjoyed, namely hunting and fishing. VanderStelt looked for teams that ride for a Parkinson's cure and couldn't find any in the U.S. So, he started riding with a Canadian team.

"It didn't matter who found a cure, just as long as someone did," VanderStelt says.

Then, in 2011, he decided to put a U.S. team together, and Team Troll came into being. The name Team Troll comes from a nickname the northern Michigan locals gave VanderStelt and a group of friends who fished for smelt and trout under the Mackinac Bridge--as in the troll under the bridge, a la “Three Billy Goats Gruff.”

Only one thing remained before hitting the dirt for dollars: Finding a nonprofit to receive the funds. It just made sense to contact Van Andel Research Institute (VARI). Founded by Jay and Betty Van Andel in 1996, VARI does groundbreaking research on Parkinson's disease. Jay Van Andel had Parkinson's for over 10 years before his death in 2004. VARI also does research on cancer, osteoporosis, and diabetes.

VanderStelt contacted Patrik Brundin, M.D., Ph.D., the Associate Director of Research and Chair of Research Leadership Council at VARI. Dr. Brundin is one of the top-cited researchers in the field of neuroscience with nearly 300 publications on Parkinson's disease and related topics to his name. (http://vai.org/vari/research-programs/lab-of-parkinsons-disease-research/lead-investigator-bio.aspx) Dr. Brundin said yes. How could he not?

So, Team Troll aligned with VARI's support and fundraising arm, Purple Community–100% Hope, to raise money for Parkinson's research. Every single dollar raised from events goes directly to the disease-fighting research of one's choice. Nothing is taken out for overhead costs or administrative fees. Since 2009, the organization has allowed people and groups to create fundraising events based on their personal passions. Event types range from bake sales to walkathons and motorcycle rallies. Or, in Team Troll's case, bike rides and races.

Sponsors help pay for Team Troll's team kits, banners, and other promotional products. The cyclists buy their own gear and equipment. Team Troll riders have the option to create their own page on the VAI website to share their experiences and choose where they want their share of the funds to go.

And then they were off to the races. The first year, with 15 cyclists on board, "We raised awareness," says VanderStelt. "We met with local Parkinson's groups and attended events to spread the word."

In the spring of 2012, VanderStelt recruited more riders from across Michigan and created the Team Troll website. By that summer, the team participated in more than 20 races as well as group and recreational rides. That autumn, they partnered with Generation Care, a West Michigan rehabilitation and wellness organization, to raise $2,500 for Parkinson's research during a one-day group ride. So far, the team has raised more than $10,000 for Parkinson's research for VARI.

There are now more than 35 riders in Michigan, Georgia, Oregon, and Arizona.

"These are everyday people, and most are just average Joes," VanderStelt said. Some team riders have Parkinson's. One 58-year-old was diagnosed four or five years ago. Another was diagnosed in her late 30s.

VanderStelt’s wife Ashley, 41, doesn't ride but is supportive of Team Troll. Daughter Bella, 7, was a bit leery about learning to ride a bike.

"Probably because she sees her dad come home all beat up," VanderStelt laughed. "When I ride or race my mountain bike, I push it to the limit. Sometimes I crash into trees or hit the ground."

One time a branch caught on the jacket of the rider ahead and snapped back to hit VanderStelt on the bridge of the nose.

"It wasn't a serious injury, but it bled a lot,” he said

Team Troll always looks for new ideas and ways to raise funds for research. In Cleveland, able-bodied riders partner with Parkinson's patients and spend time cycling on stationary bikes, which provides excellent therapy. Pedaling for Parkinson's on a tandem bike is another possibility. They are also thinking about expanding to different sports.

"We won't stop there," VanderStelt said. "Our primary focus is raising awareness and funds to help support VAI's research. But it's a great way to get trained and help a patient. It's a cause bigger than us. We ride bikes as a hobby and make a difference. We're always trying to make it bigger and better."

VanderStelt once said his ultimate goal is for Team Troll to not exist because they've found a cure for Parkinson's.

"Wait, I take that back,” he said. “We would ride for another cause.”

"This all kind of just happened," VanderStelt said. "I just live it. When someone asks, yes, the initial setup was time-intensive. But I would do this for a living if I could. If I were independently wealthy."

Want to join Team Troll? Go to http://purplecommunity.kintera.org/faf/search/searchTeamPart.asp?ievent=1041233&team=5278693 to learn more.

Rapid Growth Media's Do Good editor, Victoria Mullen, tells stories, makes art, and enjoys acting in films. She writes grants for nonprofits and loves learning new things from the people she meets. This is her first story for UIX. Based in Grand Rapids, Victoria is currently training her two cats to jump through flaming hoops. It's not working out so well. Check out her acting website here: http://www.victoriamullen.com and her art website here: http://www.catboycafe.com.

Photography by Adam Bird

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