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Jim Hunt is an encourager. In just a few minutes of talking with him, you can tell—there’s something different about Jim. For one, he was the only participant at the Lambert Dillard Memorial 5K, hosted by the North Rutherford Family YMCA, with two walking sticks.

Jim has Functional Movement Disorder (FMD). He’s been dealing with it intensely for four years, but doctors at the Mayo Clinic say his body has likely been adapting to the disorder for much longer. “It even affects my speech,” he says. “Most people understand it when I tell them that it’s very similar to Parkinson’s, but it’s not degenerative. I have trouble walking to the mailbox and back.” Jim deals with tremors and movement issues. Every three days or so, he has to “reteach” his muscles the right pathways in order to work.

Jim doesn’t take any medicine for FMD. Instead, you’ll find him doing drills two days a week at the North Rutherford Family Y. “I have to do the drills to maintain my balance,” he says. “If I don’t do them, then I can’t do things like play chase and run around with my grandkids. Because of the drills, I can get up and down off the floor with them.” His nickname is ‘Goofy Pop Pop.’

Day to day, Jim has his own way of doing things. He modifies his movements for daily tasks to work around tremors. “I can’t work; I can’t do anything for much more than an hour and a half. I have to do things in what I call ‘my dorky way.’ It’s not normal like everybody else; it’s dorky, but safe.”

That’s the reason he comes to the Y, Jim shares—it’s a safe environment. “I can’t use the treadmill because I can’t control it with my body. When I tried the elliptical, the staff were so patient with me.” Jim can do his drills at the Y because he knows that the staff members are there watching him. “I can fall doing my drills sometimes. I have never fallen at the Y, but I have had several near-falls. I know that the staff members are properly trained. I know that there are people watching to make sure I don’t fall.” One staffer, Taylor, even filmed Jim doing his drills one day when he needed to show his exercises to a new neurologist. “[Taylor] is wonderful and encouraging. She calls me by my name every time I come in.”

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Jim and his grandkids at Percy Priest Lake

Finding that sense of community was invaluable to Jim, who had just moved from Indiana to Tennessee to help take care of his in-laws. One day, he saw a flyer at the Y for a race: the Lambert Dillard Memorial 5K. Jim, who ran cross-country at Freed-Hardeman in college and coached track, questioned whether or not he could complete a race. YMCA staff persuaded him to sign up. It was going to take some training. “It wasn’t nerve-wracking,” Jim says, “because of the staff. They were so encouraging to me.” As a former alternative school teacher and girls’ track coach, Jim also felt moved by the Lambert Dillard’s mission to raise awareness around domestic violence. “I have two sons, but coaching the girls gave me a lot of daughters,” he says. “I wanted to be part of supporting the effort.”

He started doing endurance training to prepare. Jim likes describing the race as a “hurdle.” He wanted to make sure that he was able to walk the 3.1 miles. “There was a focus down the road of: ‘I’m going to be doing this race,’” he says. “So, I did my exercises at a level that was more challenging. Exercises get very boring if there is no purpose to them. We all want a finished product when we’re doing something. For me, the finished product was completing the Lambert Dillard 5K.” The more he trained, the more his confidence in his ability to do the 5K grew. His training also allowed him to begin volunteering with the Red Cross. “I transport blood,” he says. “I can only do that now because I have the strength and endurance. It helps me feel useful.”

On the day of the event, Jim was “pleasantly surprised” at how many people showed up to support the cause. He found out that several racers even attended the same church as him. It made him feel like he was really part of the Smyrna community.

Along the course, Jim tried to keep a pace of 16-17 minutes per mile. Along the way, he’d talk with other walkers who wondered why he had walking sticks. “When I’m using the walking sticks, I hide the disorder pretty well,” Jim says. “But, if I didn’t have the walking sticks, a 5K would become a 10K. They keep me straight and balanced so I don’t trip.”

Folks encouraged him along the route. “That race day, I hardly knew anybody in the community,” Jim says. “But, everybody was still cheering me on. That was a good feeling.” At the finish line, Jim paused. He thought to himself, “I did it. I really did it.” It was a huge achievement.

Jim used to be concerned with racing against everybody else—but he isn’t now. “I’m racing against me,” he says. “I’m trying to get a better time for me. I struggle enough with my own comparison. I just want to encourage others.” Jim motivated his wife to try her own first 5K, and now she’s signing up for another one. Jim hopes they will be able to do several 5Ks each year together—“including the Lambert Dillard 5K!” Now, you’ll find Jim completing a 5K every six weeks. “It’s not just physically beneficial,” he says. “It’s spiritually and emotionally beneficial. It’s such a sense of accomplishment.”

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Jim and his wife Laura at Freed-Hardeman Homecoming in 2019

Jim mentions that it’s not uncommon for people who deal with Functional Movement Disorder to suffer from depression—but he doesn’t. “I don’t battle depression because I have purpose,” Jim says. “I have goals to work toward. This is one of them; I want to be able to physically do things.” Jim’s filmed exercises have gone on to help four other patients at the Mayo Clinic, which he loves to hear. “I’m not ashamed of having this disorder,” he says. “Once you’re around me for a few minutes, you’ll know that something is different about me. I know that something is different, so why would I hide it? If my story helps somebody else—great. I wouldn’t want them to struggle through this alone.”

Support the Lambert Dillard Memorial Race and join us for this year’s VIRTUAL 5K/10K! Walk, jog, or run the race distance any time from Sept. 18-20. You can complete it all at once or split it over the weekend. All racers will get a Lambert Dillard shirt and the first 75 participants will get an exclusive medal. Sign up today!