Kirk Gibson smiles as he speaks with the media June 27 at the Kirk Gibson Foundation’s office in Birmingham.

Kirk Gibson smiles as he speaks with the media June 27 at the Kirk Gibson Foundation’s office in Birmingham.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

Kirk Gibson building a new legacy in fight against Parkinson’s

By: Jonathan Szczepaniak | Metro | Published July 21, 2023


METRO DETROIT — Kirk Gibson’s legacy as a player is prestigious across the baseball world.

Through memorable World Series home runs with both the Detroit Tigers and the Los Angeles Dodgers that cause adults to reflect with an “I remember when” type of nostalgia, Gibson’s MVP season in 1988, two World Series titles, and even a 2005 Wheaties breakfast cereal box commemorating Gibson’s walk-off home run in the 1988 World Series illustrate the impact he’s had on the sport.

Now, he is forging his legacy in a different area with another team that Gibson will undoubtedly leave his mark on.

“He played baseball for so long, and then he just moved from one team to another — the Parkinson’s team,” Cameron Gibson, Kirk’s son, said. “He’s their fearless leader.”

Gibson’s inspiring journey with Parkinson’s disease since his diagnosis in 2015 has been paved with every ounce of work and dedication that the Kirk Gibson Foundation has put forth toward Parkinson’s, and the efforts and its volunteers are only growing each year.

The foundation, which was founded in 1996, originally provided college scholarships to a male and female student at both Waterford Kettering, where Gibson graduated and his father worked as a math teacher, and Clarkston High School, where his mother taught theater and speech. After his diagnosis, the foundation, which still provides scholarships, switched gears to focus on funding and supporting the Parkinson’s community, establishing the name of Team23 in honor of Gibson’s jersey number.

“What helps us is more help, more contributions from others, and more donations and time and resources so we can lift more people up and keep it going,” Gibson said.

Because it’s 2023, the foundation is motivated to complete a set of goals for this year as it continues to grow into its new office in Birmingham.

Steve Annear, the managing director and board member for the foundation, said there are two main goals this year that the foundation is focused on accomplishing.

“We want to grow out our membership of Team23 to 2,300 people this year, and the aim is to raise 2.3 million dollars this year,” Annear said. “I think we’ll achieve both of those things, and we also want to move all of the major initiatives of the foundation forward. As we’re doing that, more people are joining us at Team23 as donors, joining as volunteers, joining as people who work day-to-day in the foundation and helping us all moving forward.”

Originally from Australia, Annear famously ran the Detroit Free Press Marathon in October of last year on one leg and two crutches, finishing the 26.2-mile race and raising more than $100,000 for the Kirk Gibson Foundation.

Annear had his left leg amputated at age 11 because of circulatory problems, and he became an immediate inspiration for Gibson when he met Annear while they were both playing golf.

“My friends that I was playing golf with were very excited about him, and he came over and said hello to us, and I had no idea who he was,” Annear said. “I had to go home and look him up. For you or everybody that knows Kirk, I’ve never had that baseball hero background with him. I’ve always known him as a friend who has Parkinson’s and is spending his life looking after others. That’s the hero I see everyday.”

Annear and Gibson have been a dynamic duo ever since Annear joined the foundation as the managing director in January of 2022, and there’s been one area that the foundation has strongly supported.

With the help of fundraising events and donations, the foundation has made major contributions to various activity-based programs that improve the lives of people living with Parkinson’s.

Programs include exercise support groups (weekly classes at Corewell Health); respite care programs, which is in partnership with the Michigan Parkinson’s Foundation to help caregivers; adaptive yoga programs; and cognitive training programs.

If the stars align, the foundation hopes to develop a medical center where caregivers and people going through Parkinson’s feel at home in a positive environment while also having various programs, and Parkinson’s research organizations can work together.

“It’s more than a dream,” Gibson said. “We’re working towards it and we’re chipping away at it. We work on it daily, visiting other places that pulled it off on smaller scales. I don’t want it to be like a medical field. I want it to be more like, ‘This is where we try and kick Parky’s ass field.’”

A major win against Parkinson’s disease came earlier this year when the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research announced that it had developed a test that can reveal abnormal alpha-synuclein, which is known as the “Parkinson’s protein,” in brain and body cells.

The breakthrough with the test is the idea that people can be diagnosed much quicker, before showing numerous symptoms such as rigidity of muscles, tremors, speech changes, slowed movement and more.

“They were able to develop a biomarker test for Parkinson’s, which means you can detect it in spinal fluid,” Annear said. “That means that before the symptoms are prevalent, people will be able to find out that they have Parkinson’s through this test. It’s big, big news. We’re still a long way from a cure, but organizations like MJ Fox will find a cure. That will happen, and this is a great step along the way.”

As the foundation continues to mobilize in the fight against Parkinson’s, Gibson said he has been able to improve physically through various exercises that stimulate his nervous system and joints, as exercise is one of the primary ways to maintain one’s quality of life with Parkinson’s. He works in some golf, table tennis and bowling as well.

Most importantly, and Gibson will be the first to say it, a support system is everything for someone going through something like Parkinson’s. Gibson has more than he ever could’ve asked for in that department.

“They’re great,” Gibson said. “Cam donates his time to the foundation and works with the team, and he’s taken on some responsibility there. He helps his old man, and all my boys really do it. My daughter Colleen and my wife, she’s over the top. I’m grateful for that. Look at the Gabe Kapler footage (from their Bally Sports Detroit piece on YouTube), and he talks about watching his dad dissipate; that’s me. That’s what they’re watching. If you look at my tapes from year to year to year, you can see it. It’s not something that’s going to be great for them to deal with, but it’s going to happen, but not if I can help it.”

For more information on the Kirk Gibson Foundation, visit