Brian Grant's battles continue
The year 2019 has not gotten off to a great start for Brian Grant, and it has little to do with his ongoing battle with Parkinson's disease.
The former Trail Blazers forward is dealing with the health issues of his father, Thomas Grant, who is battling throat cancer.
"I'm a little down right now," Brian says in an interview at his West Linn home of two years. "My warrior dad is going through a tough time. You feel helpless, you know. Like, what can I do?"
Thomas Grant, 64, still lives in Georgetown, Ohio, the small town of 4,300 in which Brian grew up. The senior Grant is meeting his son in Miami, where Brian will spend the next six to 12 months working on his own health with renowned celebrity trainer Dodd Romero.
"Dodd is crazy in a good way," Brian says. "He said, 'I want your dad to come down here.' We're going to see what we can do to help my dad out."
Grant worked with Romero during Brian's time playing with the Miami Heat from 2000-04.
"He had me ripped up," Grant says. "He's a specialist in that. It's faith, family and then work for him."
Grant will be back and forth from Portland to Miami over the next year, but he wants to see what he can do to ward off the effects of Parkinson's, of which he was diagnosed in 2009 at age 36. Dodd will work with Grant on nutrition and exercise and lifestyle.
"We want to see if it helps my symptoms, getting in tip-top shape and having good nutrition during that time," Grant says. "I wonder if it's attitude. I'm trying to be as positive and as healthy as I can possibly be.
"As Dodd puts it, 'I'm going to take you back to 30. If we do that, the body is going to react right.' That's his philosophy, plain and simple."
Grant will never be in the physical shape he was in 30, of course, but it's all relative. His symptoms from the effects of Parkinson's have grown worse over the years, leaving him with tremors and shakes that affect his life on a daily basis. Medication has adversely affected his short-term memory, too, an affliction that concerns him for his future.
Family has helped him through his life crisis. Brian is single now as he nears his 47th birthday on March 5. His constant companion is his adorable 5-year-old Boston terrier, Bucky.
Three of Brian's eight children live with him at least part-time — oldest son Elijah along with daughters Maliah (16) and Aniya (15). All of the children — including two who live in Chicago — were home for the Christmas holidays.
"I love it around Christmastime when all the kids are here together," Brian says. "It's special. They're the ones who have gotten me through some tough times."
Grant spent much of the fall attending Oregon State football games to follow the pursuits of a younger son, Jaydon, who will be a sophomore cornerback for the Beavers next fall. A walk-on when he arrived in Corvallis, Jaydon played as a reserve as a redshirt freshman and was recently awarded a scholarship.
"I'm so proud of him," Brian says. "When he was in high school (at West Linn), I thought basketball was going to be it for him. I felt he was good enough to get a scholarship. But when (college) basketball wasn't there for him, he started talking to me about football."
Houston Lillard, Damian's older brother and a former quarterback at Southeast Missouri State and in the minor professional leagues, took an interest in Jaydon and helped steer him to Oregon State.
"Jaydon struggled with injuries much of his first two years (at OSU), but he got to the point where he was being productive last season," Brian says. "That was great, but the thing I was most proud of was when I watched him on the sidelines when he wasn't playing.
"He'd be standing right there on the field, and he really wanted to be out there, but he wasn't moping around. He didn't have a bad attitude. He was congratulating his teammates. It's hard when you're not playing, but he kept his composure. He got his scholarship, and I'm grateful.
"I'm an Oregon State Beaver now. I like Oregon, too, but of course I'll go with Oregon State every time."
Grant also spends a good portion of his time working with the Brian Grant Foundation, dedicated to helping Parkinson's patients in Oregon and across the country. Grant initially began a foundation in 1997 after he got to Portland.
"We'd find families that were having trouble paying their bills and assist them with that," Grant recalls. "We'd hand out turkey dinners at Thanksgiving and Christmas — those type of things. It was simple and easy, and I liked that."
The organization died shortly after Grant was traded to Miami in 2000. It wasn't in operation in 2009, when Grant received news that he had contracted Parkinson's. In short time, he decided to put on a gala at the Rose Garden called "Shake It 'til We Make It."
"I'd attended Michael J. Fox's gala in New York earlier that year," Grant says. "It was nice, and there was $20 million raised, but it was boring. Everybody was reading off teleprompters. Those people were there to party, too. It can't always be a party, but I made sure our first one was."
Among the celebrities who attended the "Shake It 'til We Make It' gala in 2009 were Muhammad Ali, Michael J. Fox, Bill Walton, Charles Barkley and Pat Riley. The event — anything but stodgy — raised $400,000 for Fox's foundation.
"Everything came together and clicked," Grant says. "It was a special night. I knew from that moment, 'We're never going to be able to duplicate this, but maybe this will give that boost in the right direction to where I can find my niche.'"
The next year, Grant re-started his foundation. This time, it was designed specifically to help people deal with Parkinson's disease.
"I wasn't sure exactly what I wanted to do, but I wanted to put something in place, because I knew I'd eventually figure it out," Grant says. "I saw there was a big gap for people with Parkinson's not being able to get information about what to do."
The annual gala continued on a smaller scale until 2016, when it wasn't held. That year, Grant hired Katrina Kahl as executive director of the foundation.
"She's an amazing individual," Grant says, "and she has done a great job with the foundation."
Kahl, a Portland native, had met Grant during the two years she worked with the Michael J. Fox Foundation in New York. She returned home in 2016 with ideas for Grant's foundation.
One is a training program for fitness pros to work as physical therapists to help patients delay the effects of Parkinson's through movement. About 750 people from 16 countries have registed for the program.
The Grant Foundation has several events planned in the state for 2019, including a "Rock Steady" boxing class in Salem on March 20, a "Pints for Parkinson's" kickoff party involving 36 bars (24 in Portland, 12 in Bend) on March 27 and a Parkinson's cooking class with Lebanese cuisine in Cedar Mill in November.
The "Shake It 'til We Make It" gala will be held for the third straight year at Castaway Portland in the Pearl District on May 17. It will include dinner, a cocktail hour, live and silent auctions, music and a speech by the man of the hour, Brian Grant.
"Katrina has helped turn it back into something special," Grant says.
"Brian is the best," Kahl says. "If ever there were a person who has faced adversity head on, it's him. Since the beginning of his life, he has had to pick himself up and fight, and he does. He is incredible for that reason.
"Parkinson's is a huge challenge for a number of reasons. Instead of hiding in the shadows, Brian is doing what he can for other people."
Kahl has found her time working with Parkinson's patients rewarding.
"They're the best example of human resilience you'll ever see," she says. "They're people who have to fight their bodies every day, and they're doing it. They get up, raise their kids, go to work — it's an an incredible community of people."
Grant has been asked to speak to many Parkinson's groups across the country in recent years.
"For me, to be able to get out is good," he says. "Depression is one of the heaviest things for me to deal with. I'm sure it's the same for many other people with Parkinson's. It's nice flying into another city and seeing other people and finding out the ways they're getting through the struggle.
"I'm getting better at (public speaking). Sometimes you get up there and your mouth is so dry and you can't control the tremors and you get a little nervous. People aren't worried about the shaking, though. They're there to hear the message."
Grant is grateful for everyone who supports his foundation. He is just as grateful for those he is able to help who have been afflicted by the social disorder problems the disease presents. He serves as an ambassador for the Trail Blazers, but for the Parkinson's movement as well.
"The great thing for me is to see people coming out of the closet, so to speak, and say, 'I have Parkinson's. This is the first time I've been out in awhile,'" he says.
In that sense, Grant's a Pied Piper, too.