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Grant still pushes past toughest opponent

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Former Trail Blazers power forward Brian Grant has resurrected his foundation as he attempts to help others who have Parkinsons disease.Life moves quickly, but not fast enough to pass by Brian Grant.

At 41, the former Trail Blazers standout remains on a fast track despite the ravages of early-onset Parkinson’s disease.

Big changes are ahead in Grant’s personal life. He and fiancé Allison Castelli will wed “in the next couple of weeks,” he says over an Arnold Palmer and appetizers. “We’re going to elope, but we’ll have receptions here and in Rockford, Ill.”

Allison is expecting a baby in November — her first child, his seventh — that has already been named Brian Thomas. “Thomas is the name of both of our fathers,” says Grant, whose 12-year NBA career ended in 2006.

Grant and Castelli, 30, met when she volunteered to work the first “Shake It Til We Make It” benefit for the Brian Grant Foundation in 2010 while living in Los Angeles and working for Brian’s agent, Mark Bartelstein. She moved to Portland in 2011, worked for a short time for the foundation, “and we fell in love,” Castelli says.

She loves Brian’s devotion to his six children — Amani, who will be 18 in October, is the oldest; Anaya, “10 going on 20,” Brian says, is the youngest. Now there will be seven, “and that’s going to be it,” he says with a smile.

Grant’s other baby right now is his fourth annual “Shake It Til We Make It” event, Sept. 7 at the Rose Garden. It’s a dinner/auction with a heavy Blazers presence and a treasure trove of entertainment for the basketball and music fan (see briangrant.org or contact Cherise Bjornsgard at cherise @briangrant.org)

“We’re really excited for it,” he says. “All of our sponsorship tables are completely sold out for the first time, though we have some individual seating left. (R&B singer) Brian McKnight will headline our entertainment, and we’ll have comedy, too.”

The golf portion of the weekend has been dropped, but a number of celebrities will be on hand at the dinner/auction to help Grant raise funds for his foundation, which was reestablished in 2009 — shortly after he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s — following a hiatus of several years.

“I feel really good about where we are with the foundation,” Grant says. “There were a couple of points where I didn’t know if we would continue to move forward. They say if you can get past your third year, you’re going to make it, but I didn’t know if we’d get to the third year. We’re still here.”

Grant raised $350,000 from his first gala in 2010, headlined by Muhammad Ali, Michael J. Fox and Pat Riley. Last year’s show added $150,000. That and additional fundraising — Grant says a campaign will begin in 2014 — means the foundation “is finally able to stand on its own legs.”

The foundation is designed to aid Parkinson’s patients primarily in three areas: 1) nutrition and exercise, 2) relationship-building between patient, caregiver, family member and friends, and 3) team-building between neurologist, family practitioner, naturopath, etc.

The current focus is on the nutrition/exercise phase. Three local YMCAs offer “Powering Forward Boot Camp” programs designed specifically for Parkinson’s patients. Soon there will be a retreat in the Newberg area (see briangrant.org).

Nearly five years after his Parkinson’s diagnosis, Grant has begun taking medication to help control the disease that has slowly progressed in his system. The tremor in his left hand is more pronounced. His left foot often taps as he speaks. He has some dryness around his eyes and mouth.

“But I’m still able to function pretty well,” he says.

Grant needs replacement surgery on his arthritic right knee. Inactivity has caused his weight to soar to 306 pounds — “three bills, six cents, the heaviest I’ve ever been,” he says with a shake of his head. “It’s because I can’t do much on the knee. But I’m going to get (the surgery) done.”

Before the knee started acting up late last year, Brian and Allison scaled 8,500-foot Mount St. Helens with a Parkinson’s group, an 11-hour summer climb.

“I’ll never do that again,” Grant says. “One of the hardest things I’ve ever done. It wasn’t the climb that got me. I almost came down the mountain early because I was freezing.”

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Brian Grant and Allison Castelli plan to be married soon, and his seventh child is due in November.Brian and Allison are no longer vegans. They strictly followed the diet for six months last year until her father visited from Illinois. “He went ocean fishing with Brian, and they landed a 34-pound yellowfin,” she says. “Brian couldn’t not eat the albacore tuna.”

Everything is not perfect for Grant, but it’s still pretty good, even while having to post up with Parkinson’s.

“It makes me think about my mortality,” he says. “You’d get injured as an NBA athlete, but things could always be fixed. Once I got Parkinson’s and things started happening to my body, it put things in perspective.

“We’re only here for a short period of time. I’m trying to enjoy it while I can. I’m lucky I have something that will allow me to have a few more years on this earth. I’ve had a couple of friends pass away from cancer in the past couple of years.”

Brian and Allison will continue to live in West Linn, which he has called home since 2008.

“He always says of all the cities he played in, Portland was the one with the best sense of community,” she says.

Grant and ex-wife Gina have chosen to remain in the Portland area to raise their children.

“Portland feels like home,” he says. “I knew when I left Portland (after the 1999-2000 season) I’d be back one day. I did a year and a half in Miami, and that was enough. This is where we want to be.

“A lot of people don’t appreciate what we have here. People leave and go to other places and then come to realize, ‘Wow, I really do live in a gem of a city.’ You can go to the coast or the mountains. You have green on one side of the state and desert on the other. This place is unique.”

So is Grant, who played with the Blazers from 1997-2000. He was in town during a dark era for the NBA franchise. Teammates such as J.R. Rider, Rasheed Wallace and Gary Trent helped form the “Jail Blazers.” Grant was a rarity during that period, an excellent player with admirable deportment, a go-to guy for the team’s media. I nominated him for the NBA’s J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award in 1998-99 and was thrilled when he won it.

Now Grant serves as an ambassador for the Blazers, and for the city itself, as one of the franchise’s most popular ex-players who chose to make Portland his home. He is doing what he can to help others afflicted with the disease that has impacted his life. He’ll make Brian Thomas Grant proud.

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Twitter: @kerryeggers



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