Some Inspiration from Tommy Burke

By Guest Blogger Tommy Burke

You know the phrase “work smarter not harder”

Well, I missed that my whole life.

I didn’t use it when I got in the restaurant business

I didn’t use it when I got in the film business

I didn’t use it when I got cancer and worked an 80-hour TV series and did chemo at midnight.

Tommy Burke on the set

I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s on 8/7/17. I still worked the rest of the year on a job that put me sometimes outside in Chicago weather at night in the winter months. Many days were 14 hours on my feet

Then I got smart (a little bit) and went on disability and made my career my workouts.

My job was logistics based and navigating my cancer and a work schedule set me up for attacking my Parkinson’s. I’m sorry if this is a little in delicate for some people. But as I said when I got cancer 20 years ago I now apply to my Parkinson’s plan. I’ll make Parkinson’s my bitch.

But wait.

I’m sure a lot of you are saying “You’ve only had it for 5 years punk, get back to us when you’re a bunch of years down the line.”

First and foremost

Yes, I’m a punk. Since I’m approaching my 60th birthday I’ll take it. My life has been a series of digging myself out difficult situations. Remember I work hard not smart. Hopefully that has changed some. My book explains some of my many life’s hazards.

That’s why on the Sunday of Labor Day weekend I am trying to write an entry that’s worthy of Sharon Krischer’s incredible Blog Twitchy woman. I hopefully will do it justice.

But remember I work hard and am only getting a slightly smarter. Dealing with my cancer and my logistics background is paying off and I have learned a few things

1st assistant Director on Chicago PD

Here’s the knowledge I have amassed. Having spent my whole working life in a gig economy I’ve learned to pick a good support system.

-I have two boxing coaches and a trainer. They have no PD background. I just flooded them with PD YouTube videos and posts. Like the pros they are they have taken upon themselves to learn more.

My Saturday morning trainer Jordan has taken up the call and I’ve been with him the longest. We workout on the beach. We do ladder drills while he has me call out answer to math problems Jordan he feeds me. When he holds the focus mitts he has me call out the punches. I’ve stop saying ( I learned how to cheat when I took Karate in college) “I’m old” or “I have Parkinson’s”  because my trainers don’t listen when I’m looking for a break. I’ve been going to him for 4 years. When I was diagnosed, I was with most things in my life, charging into PD strategies without thinking outcomes would be. I just knew I had to get it done. Jordan has now becomes a self-learned Parkinson’s savant and handler of a big Boston born Irish middle-aged baby.

My Tuesday morning is my weights trainer, Michael. He is into fitness and has made it his life calling. I have to remember to pay him because he will forget to ask me for the money because he is so into the challenge of working with me.. We work on balance and strength. He texts me homework that I should do in front of the TV and I forget to do. What can I say, sometime I do them sometimes I forget. Especially forget when reruns of Columbo comes on my mind needs to  turns off. I think he is more committed to my well-being than I am. If I start lagging at his home gym he’ll say “I wonder what Jimmy Choi is doing right now” and that gets me going. He is the gold standard of fitness.

My Wednesday evening Boxing coach is the latest addition. I have been going him for about 4 months. It is at a boxing gym that is south central LA adjacent and I’m usually the only white face there in a sea of 35 people there. I’m a good 40 years older than most of the people there. Let’s face it most of the other people are kids. I’m sure they don’t know what that big gasping sweaty man is doing there but a lot of them give me a fist bumps when they are leaving. I told John of Sweet Science boxing at the first session “we are not here to make a boxer out of me we are here to train someone who is dealing with Parkinson’s.”

Having said that when we are doing the focus mitts and I occasionally drop my right hand leaving my face unprotected. John would swing a left hook to remind me to keep my hand up and not leave my face unprotected. Sure, I got my hand in place in time (mostly) but John would strike my hand that would hit my head. I don’t know as much as I should about Parkinson’s but I’m guessing blows to the head are not ideal. I told the owner of the gym with a little indignation what has happened and his response was “hit him back.” I’m getting a little wiser because after a frank discussion that doesn’t happen anymore. But John has taken up the YouTube Parkinson’s call. He saw what the famous Freddie Roach (Champion Boxer Manny Pacquiao’s trainer and has been living with Parkinson’s for a quite a while) does every day we have now instituted throwing a tennis ball against a wall and catching it with the opposite hand.  We end each session with us tossing 3 small bean bag bags between us. John tries to make it challenging by throwing them at different heights within the three tosses. Sometimes I have to be like an incensed baseball manager and argue that set of tosses were uncatchable.

Showing my favorite team surrounded by real Chicago cops who were background on the Chicago PD TV series

Next time you think you looking awkward in your exercise picture me chasing an uncaught tennis ball that has rolled under a boxer feverishly hitting a heavy bag

After 9 rounds of hitting focus mitts, I’m soaked in sweat and is the time I truly feel closest to my old self

Some of my own tricks. I won’t let myself watch a TV show Tuesday nights unless I do it from my Realryder stationary bike. I am not going to tell you the show because I’ve given enough plugs.

I do my 20 lbs. weighted vests walks. I don’t to them to often. I was 6’2 in my younger days and now I’m 6’1 ½. I’m losing enough.

Another trick I do after going to a big and loud specialist. When I reach a stoplight I roll up the windows of my car and do my vocal exercises. I don’t care what I look like. I live in southern California; we have enough crazy people that I blend in.

We all have burdens to shoulder that may be what we may think is insignificant to us. It doesn’t matter. My symptoms are negligible. I proudly tell anybody that I have Parkinson’s. It shows that I’m in the toughest gang there is. I will keep at it. If anyone wants to come and watch anyone of my training sessions they are more than welcome to.

Check out Tommy’s website at His book Not Just Sunglasses and Autograph’s is available with a $10 discount from Book Baby using the code ATTACKLIFE.

Upcoming Book Signings in Southern California


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A Note To My Readers

I love to see your comments and get your emails as we share our collective experiences. But based on a couple of private questions from some of you, remember, I am just a lay person and a patient like the rest of you. For medical and similar advice, you need to talk to your own doctor

Twitchy Woman

Twitchy Women partners with the Parkinson’s Wellness Fund to ensure we have the resources to offer peer support for women with Parkinson’s.