Olympic ambitions – both athletic and medical

Peter Cundill small

Peter Cundill

On a chilly January afternoon in London, two high-profile Canadians – a champion sprint kayaker and a leading UBC neuroscientist – met at Canada House, the High Commission of Canada in the United Kingdom. They were soon joined by UBC alumni and members of the London neuroscience and business communities.

They had come to discuss elite athleticism. But their larger mission was honouring the legacy of investor and philanthropist Peter Cundill. Cundill completed 22 marathons before he was diagnosed with Fragile X-associated tremor/ataxia syndrome — a rare, untreatable neurodegenerative disease with symptoms similar to Parkinson’s. After his death in 2011, the Peter Cundill Foundation donated $6 million to the Faculty of Medicine for Parkinson’s research, with an agreement that the Faculty would host a series of annual lectures.

Adam van Koeverden

Adam van Koeverden

The inaugural lecture in January featured Adam van Koeverden, who told his personal story of how determination and years of training transformed him from a child with no apparent athletic talent into a record-breaking Olympian, and Max Cynader, Director of the Brain Research Centre and the Djavad Mowafaghian Centre for Brain Health, who explained how modern neuroscience is helping elite athletes enhance their grit, focus, teachability and adaptability.

Since the Foundation’s most recent gift in April 2012, Matthew Farrer and UBC’s Parkinson’s team have identified a third gene linked to this disease.

“Understanding that diseases of the brain represent one of the greatest challenges to global medical health in the 21st century, the Peter Cundill Foundation’s decision to support the UBC Faculty of Medicine was simple,” said Peter Webster, a Foundation Trustee, at the London lecture. “UBC is a world leader in the field of neuroscience and brain health research. We have already begun to witness the impact their work is making on Parkinson’s and other neurological diseases, and we continue to be inspired and hopeful.”