“It was devastating, but I pushed forward,” Burkart, 44, tells PEOPLE. “I wasn’t going to let that slow me down.”
The professional competition and tandem skydiving instructor (who has been jumping since 2002) wasn’t just doing it for the thrill. In 1999, his father, Gary, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Burkart has since made it his mission to help find a cure.
“It’s the second most common neurodegenerative disease,” he says. “But it doesn’t make any noise.”
Burkart, who cares for his father who is now in the late stages of Parkinson’s, says it’s painful to see someone you love go from being healthy to using a cane and then a walker.
“The people who have it are normally older. They’re humble and just going quietly into the night,” he says. “It’s amazing how quickly you go from being a baby and being taken care of to then taking care of your parents.”
Between three skydiving events in 2008, 2010 and 2012, Burkart raised $250,000 for research into the disease.
Then, on June 15, despite high winds gusting up to 29 mph, he completed 101 jumps in just 24 hours in Baldwin, Wisconsin.
Throughout the day, 400 people came to watch him at Skydive Twin Cities. There were also food trucks, information booths, speakers, yoga and massages available to everyone who came to the big event.
“It was a really special day,” says Burkart who recently got married. “I almost broke my ankle a couple times and it beat the heck out of me, but it felt so good doing this and knowing I was raising money for this disease. It might be too late for my father, but it might help others.”
Skydivers in that particular area typically jump at 13,000 feet, but Burkart was jumping from a height of 2,000 feet due to the amount of jumps he attempted.
Although he came short of his goal to complete 300 skydives that day, Burkart, who raised $128,000 at the event for the National Parkinson’s Foundation, says he still feels like he accomplished a great deal.
“This is just the beginning,” he says. “We have a lot more fighting to do.”