Sam Fox (left) and Michael J. Fox (right) start their hike up White Butte. Sam is going from state to state and climbing the highest peeks. [PHOTO BY COLE BENZ | For The Dunn County Herald]
By Cole Benz
Fox, known around the world for his hit films and television acting, brought the fight to North Dakota last weekend when he and a group of Parkinson’s survivors and supporters hiked up White Butte, the state’s highest point, as part of the Tour de Fox.
“The breadth and the scope of this is incredible,” Fox told the Pioneer regarding the tour.
The magnitude of the expedition should not be underestimated and Fox admitted he has to sit back and think about it every now and then just to wrap his head around it.
Fox briefly took a break from acting after he received the devastating Parkinson’s diagnosis. He kept his struggle mostly private until symptoms of the disease became too apparent. Since then, he’s returned to the big and small screens in occasional bit parts.
Parkinson’s disease affects an estimated seven to 10 million people around the world. The disease progresses differently from person to person and symptoms of the disease can differ from one person to the next. One of the most common Parkinson’s symptoms is the presence of body tremors, which is one of Fox’s most visible symptoms.
There is no cure for the disease and medication can only help with the symptoms, though today millions of dollars are being donated for research and advancements in treatment.
Sam Fox—no relation to Michael J. Fox—helps spread Parkinson’s awareness by taking his Tour de Fox to each of the 48 contiguous states. He is leading a group of supporters around the country on a tour to raise money and awareness to battle the disease.
Tour de Fox is a three-a n d – a – h a l f – m o n t h , 14,000-mile journey that is making stops at each of the state’s highest point, with one stop in Canada. The goal is to raise one million dollars.
Fox acknowledged the amount of inspiration that Sam has for the adventure and the amount of inspiration that he emanates.
“Sam is inspiring, he’s inspired by his mother and he’s inspiring the rest of us with what he’s doing,” Fox said.
Sam is biking between each stop, with supporters and volunteers then joining him to hike the elevations.
Sam, a native of Rhode Island who now makes his home in New York City, found inspiration in his mother’s struggles.
At 11 years old, his mother was diagnosed with the disease. Shortly after he finished college he knew he wanted to do something that would have a direct impact on her life.
He started as a volunteer five years ago with the Michael J. Fox Foundation and has since moved into a full-time position. He is on the development team and is a part of the fundraising portion of the foundation.
One of his biggest supporters of his journey is Fox.
“He’s been incredibly supportive of the project already, which has been great,” Sam said.
When Fox arrived at the site of the hike he greeted families from around the area affected by the disease. Handshakes and conversation broke the ice between the actor and the people waiting to exchange a few words.
Their common connection with the disease allowed people to find ease from any star-struck feelings as conversations continued with Fox prior to the 3,506-foot hike up the butte.
After a quick lunch under the sun’s beating heat on White Butte’s summit, the friends and families were led by Fox and Sam through the start of the journey.
Survivors from as far away as Fargo and Rapid City, S.D., joined local natives for the hike.
One such group that had traveled far for the event was the family of the late Marv Bossart, a Fargo-Moorhead television broadcaster that succumbed to the disease in 2013.
Bossart’s daughter, Liz Mathison, and his family established the Marv Bossart Foundation for Parkinson’s Support a few years ago. Mathison said the event was a big stride in the fight against Parkinson’s in North Dakota.
She was able to share some information with Fox regarding the disease’s impact on the state—per capita, North Dakota has the third most residents affected by the disease, a statistic that surprised the actor.
The opportunity to speak with Fox was life changing, she said. She thinks that his appearance in North Dakota was a game-changer for the state as it brought more attention to the local struggle with the disease.
“It really changed how North Dakota will be seen, in maybe the bigger picture of Parkinson’s,” Mathison acknowledged. “(Fox) coming (here) was absolutely huge in bringing awareness to North Dakota and how much Parkinson’s is affecting people here.”
At this point his journey is roughly a third of the way complete. White Butte, in northern Slope County, is the 32nd peak he has hiked. His efforts thus far have generated nearly $600,000.
Sam said that this type of cross-country fundraiser gets a larger amount of people involved. He cites YouTube and the Internet as avenues for people to connect to his journey and donate without getting on the trails.
“You don’t have to ride 10,000 miles on a bike to make an impact in this cause,” Sam admitted.
He also said that the tour helps to bring awareness of the organization to a broader range of people.
“That was one of the things that we were most interested in doing was bringing our foundation and our message individually to communities across the country, which is not something we do that often,” Sam said.
The Tour de Fox began on June 2 in Maine and will finish on Sept. 12 in British Columbia, Canada.
Those interested in donating can visit the website TourDeFox.org. Information on Sam Fox’s progress and how you can get involved can also be found at the website.