Race driver Sterling Marlin, one of the most popular athletes in Middle Tennessee history, has been diagnosed with Parkinsonism – somewhat similar to Parkinson’s Disease but not so debilitating if properly treated.
“My doctor says if I’ll take the medicine he prescribes I’ll be fine,” says Marlin.
Marlin, 55, said he first noticed “something was wrong” back in the summer when he was puttering around on his Maury County farm and his hand began to shake uncontrollably. Also, his fingers wouldn’t respond when he tried to do something as simple as buttoning his shirt.
“I’d cut a knuckle on him right hand shortly before I began to notice the problem, and I thought I might have suffered some nerve damage,” Marlin said last week. “I finally decided to go to the doctor and after he examined me he said I had Parkinsonism.”
It didn’t take long for word to spread.
“I mentioned it to a friend of mine, and the next thing I knew there was a rumor going around that I had Parkinson’s Disease,’ Marlin said. “I was getting calls from all over the country.”
One of those calls was from an ESPN reporter. He interviewed Sterling about his condition and wrote a story that appeared on ESPN’s national website.
“I hope that put the rumors to rest,’ Marlin said.
Unlike Parkinson’s Disease, which is usually progressive and results in loss of movement and motor skills, slurred speech and shaking hands, Parkinsonism is considered less serious. Still, it is a medical issue that requires treatment.
“The doctor says it’s not curable but if I take the medicine it can be contained and shouldn’t affect me,” Marlin said. “I don’t expect it to slow me down any.”
Marlin raced at Nashville’s Fairgrounds Speedway this season and plans to return next year.
Sterling, who ran his first big-league NASCAR race in 1976, raced 17 years before finally winning his first Cup race – the Daytona 500. He came back the next year and won it again.
In 2002 he was on track for his first Cup championship until a late-season injury sidelined him. He suffered cracked neck vertebrae in a crash at Kansas Speedway, ending what turned out to be his last shot at the title.
He knocked around with some uncompetitive rides for the next few seasons before running his final Cup race in 2009 at Martinsville, Va.
Sterling’s bitter experience makes him appreciate the agony experienced by Dale Earnhardt Jr. who was forced to skip two recent races due to a head injury. That wiped out any hope Earnhardt had for his first championship.
“It’s hard to climb out of the car anytime,” Marlin said, “and it’s really hard when you’re battling for a championship. But you have to do what your doctor tells you to do.”
Sterling has made a career of overcoming obstacles – enduring 17 winless years before winning his sport’s biggest prize, twice – and he is determined to overcome his latest hurdle.
“It concerns you a little to hear a diagnosis like that,” he said. “But I won’t let it get me down. I’ve got a grandson (Stirlin, eight) who’s already driving go-karts and another one on the way. I’m going to be too busy to worry.”