Parkinson’s disease, a neurological disorder that can cause severe tremors, rigidity, slowness in motion and balance problems, can be hugely debilitating for the millions worldwide living with the condition. Not for Larry Sholin, though.
A Marin County resident who has been living with Parkinson’s for 14 years, Sholin rarely gives in to pain and despair. He is too busy going to the batting cages and using his pitching machine, rituals that are part of his softball practice. “My mantra,” says the 58-year-old, “comes from the cult classic ‘Galaxy Quest’ — ‘Never give up, never surrender.’ ”
Sholin is a valued member of Congregation Kol Shofar in Tiburon and its coed softball team, one of four in the Bay Area Temple Softball (BATS) league. His role on the team goes far deeper than what he contributes in the batter’s box or while playing catcher.
“From the inception of the team three years ago, Larry has been our inspirational leader,” says Steve Sockolov, a Kol Shofar member who helped create BATS. The league is composed of the Rodef Sholom Rebels (San Rafael), the Emanu-El Mentches and Beth Sholom Avenues (San Francisco) and the Kol Shofar Maccabees, who, with a 3-1 record, are in first place with two games to go before the playoffs.
“He has not missed a practice or a game,” Sockolov continues. “Although his Parkinson’s disease prevents him from running — when he’s at bat, we give him a pinch-runner at the plate — Larry is usually good for one or two hits every game.”
A sports enthusiast from an early age, Sholin loved playing baseball as a kid in Daly City, then migrated to softball when he was at U.C. Berkeley. After he received a master’s degree from San Francisco State University, he went on to a successful career as a systems analyst, a job he successfully managed for many years after his Parkinson’s diagnosis. When he no longer could, there was still softball, as well as another old love: piano.
Sholin has been playing piano seriously since he was in elementary school. An accomplished jazz pianist, he opened for many acts, including Elton John and Hal Linden, and had regular gigs for many years at San Francisco’s Fairmont Hotel, Joe’s of Westlake and other established venues.
Nowadays, he is still playing every week with a five-piece jazz ensemble, and he also gives a weekly performance at L’Chaim House in San Rafael, where he brings good cheer and great music to the residents of the Jewish assisted-living facility.
Residents sing and hum along as Sholin, his virtuosity on full display, plays songs by Kander and Ebb, George Gershwin, Irving Berlin and many others composers and lyricists — all by ear. No sheet music is necessary, ever. A master improviser, he can turn “White Christmas” into a klezmer-sounding tune straight from the shtetls of Eastern Europe.
“For nine years, Larry has brought real joy to our residents,” says Cary Kopstein, L’Chaim House administrator. “For everyone, but especially those with cognitive issues, Larry’s oldies’ renditions and sing-alongs reconnect residents with their youth in a happy and profound way.”
Sholin’s son, Aaron, a senior at U.C. Davis and an aspiring veterinarian, said his dad is a wonderful role model and motivator. “He does more than I do in a day, and I have no excuse,” the younger Sholin says. “He finds joy in everything. It’s very inspiring.”
It’s also clearly life enhancing. Dr. Chadwick Christine, a Parkinson’s authority and UCSF professor of neurology, says that patients who are as active and vital as Larry Sholin often enjoy a high quality of life for longer periods of time.
“Research has shown that along with appropriate medical treatments, exercise can help maintain or improve overall function with benefits across a range of symptoms, including mobility, mood, balance and energy level,” he says.
Sholin says it’s hard to imagine a time when he won’t be able to engage in his passions for sport and music. But should that time ever come, he is prepared. “I’ll just figure out something else I can do,” he says.