Ain’t no mountain high enough to keep Vincent “Enzo” Simone from advocating on behalf of people with Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.
Unexpected things can happen that will rock the core of your very existence and put you on a whole new path in life.
For Vincent “Enzo” Simone, it was when his mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and his father-in-law was diagnosed with Parkinson’s within three months of each other in 2003.
Though his late grandmother had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s years earlier, “I assumed this was a natural progression of aging. I didn’t understand at the time that it was a serious neurological disorder that robbed people of their memories and their physical abilities,” Simone said.
He felt heavy regret for “not being aware enough” to champion for his grandmother and told himself he would not make the same mistake again with his mother or his father-in-law.
“There wasn’t anything my mother and grandmother wouldn’t have done for me,” Simone said. “I wanted to take that care and direct it back toward them in a meaningful way.”
So, the New York native put his old life behind him. The old Enzo was a musician and local politician pursuing his architectural license. The new Enzo was an Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s advocate hellbent on finding their cures.
Sure, he wouldn’t technically be one of the scientists to make these miraculous discoveries. But Simone knew his passion and tenacity—not to mention his background in politics and fundraising—would serve him well as an activist.
The not-so-regular Regulars
Shortly after his mother and father-in-law’s diagnoses with Alzheimer’s and PD, Simone—who had recently taken up mountain climbing as a hobby— decided to form an international coalition of charitable mountain climbers called “The Regulars.”
“Here was the perfect opportunity to marry something that I loved to do with something I needed to do,” he explained. “If I was going to climb mountains, I wasn’t going to waste a footstep. If I could reach the top of a mountain, then perhaps there was a researcher somewhere determined to reach the top of a mountain of their own: finding a cure.”
In 2005, he created the “10 Mountains 10 Years” project, which he describes as “the longest, the highest and most arduous outdoor epic awareness and fundraising campaign of its kind.” The project became the subject of an award-winning motion picture documentary by Jennifer Yee featuring Anne Hathaway (narration), Bruce Springsteen (soundtrack), and Leeza Gibbons (Introduction).
Brian Grant attended one of the screenings for “10 Mountains 10 Years” and left the theater deeply moved and inspired to do more. In 2012, the Brian Grant Foundation started “Grant’s Army” and invited Simone to lead a team of people with Parkinson’s and their supporters up Mount St. Helen’s Volcano—including Brian himself.
“I didn’t understand all the other forms of Parkinson’s advocacy until I met Brian,” Simone noted. “He knew that the key to keeping people with Parkinson’s healthy and strong for longer was through diet and exercise. I thought, ‘Brian is really onto something with this.’
“We can’t just wait for the doctors to find the cure for us. We have to do what we can do to help ourselves today. That’s the magic of the Brian Grant Foundation. He inspires people to take care of themselves in the present moment in hopes of that better day to come.”
“Pilgrimage to Enlightenment”
Fast forward to today, and Simone is working on his most ambitious project to date. It’s a new documentary called “Pilgrimage to Enlightenment,” and this time, he’s in the director’s seat.
In June, Simone will lead an international team of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease advocates to walk the Magna Via Francigena, a recently discovered pilgrimage route to the Temple of Asclepius—the birthplace of healthcare and medicine.
Devotees built the temple in early 4th-century BC to honor Asclepius, patron god of medicine in ancient Greek mythology. Asclepius was so skillful in the art of surgery that he could return the living from the dead. He was killed at the request of Hades who feared Asclepius was stealing souls away from him.
“I want the film to show people there was a time when this temple was considered the world’s first hospital. People came here with the notion that they would be cured of their diseases,” Simone said. “After two millennia, in a world of super science and technology, why are we still struggling? How much more time will it take to find the cures people seek?”
The documentary will portray their 10-day trek across the Island of Sicily as a voyage of introspection not only for Simone himself, but for each of the advocates joining him whose lives have been impacted by Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s in some way.
“Being an advocate is an evolutionary process,” he said. “Over the course of time, certain people will cross your path who will re-chart the entire direction of where you thought you were going. Just by listening to what other advocates have to say and seeing what they do and understanding what they stand, it expanded my horizons and enlightened me to do an even greater good.”
“Pilgrimage to Enlightenment” is expected to hit film festivals in spring 2020. Visit the movie’s website for more information.
– Kathryn Jones