People with Parkinson's turn to boxing to slow illness

Posted at 4:11 PM, Jun 26, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-26 17:11:08-04

FORT DODGE, Iowa (AP) — More than 60,000 people are diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease each year.

The neurodegenerative movement disorder can cause deterioration of motor skills, balance, speech and sensory function, and there is no cure, which makes fighting to slow its progression a high priority for patients.

Roger McCullough, of Fort Dodge, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s four years ago.

“It’s something that doesn’t just go away, and you have to work at not giving ground,” McCollough told the Fort Dodge Messenger. “You have to move to retain your mobility.”

He regularly works with a personal trainer to stay active and he’s joined the Rock Steady Boxing class held at Friendship Haven for people living with Parkinson’s.

Rock Steady Boxing is a fitness class aimed at enhancing the daily quality of life for people with Parkinson’s disease. It helps participants build power, strength, flexibility and speed.

Bringing Rock Steady Boxing to Friendship Haven has been a vision for instructors Tori Johnson and Kourtney Condon.

“We went to training in January 2020, and then the pandemic interrupted our plan,” Johnson, who is the director of wellness and therapy at Friendship Haven, explained.

Johnson and Condon were finally able to open the class last October. The class meets on Mondays and Wednesdays at the Schmoker building on the Friendship Haven campus.

“I have a strong passion for helping people with Parkinson’s,” Johnson said. “I have a good family friend that has been doing a Rock Steady Boxing class in Illinois, and that’s kind of what sparked the interest of bringing it to Friendship Haven.”

McCullough said the class is a workout for both his body and his brain with the drills and activities the instructors lead. One activity is a series of colored papers taped to a wall with the numbers one through 20 written on them, and the boxer is asked to do different drills like hitting all the odd numbers or hitting all the numbers on green paper.

“It focuses on being able to think about a number at the same time that you’re counting steps, that you’re throwing punches,” he said.

McCullough said he feels that Rock Steady Boxing is a good resource for the Parkinson’s community.

“I would encourage people to try the program from that standpoint, and give it some time, because most of the time, we’re looking for a quick result, and some of this stuff is months in the process,” he said.

“There’s such a need for programming and resources for Parkinson’s in our region,” Johnson added. “It brings that whole-body wellness and encourages people to fight back against Parkinson’s.”

Each class starts with some dynamic and static stretching before moving onto the workout. During the workout, they’ll focus on different areas like agility, balance, strength, hand-eye coordination and stamina.

“We always end on a positive note with our cheer at the end,” Condon said.

Seeing the participants’ confidence and camaraderie grow over the last several months has been the best part for Condon.

“It’s really fun to see them as a group working together and cheering each other on,” she said. “They do such a good job of supporting one another and if one of them has a down day, they help boost each other’s spirits and let them know they’re not alone in this fight.”

Right now, the class has six participants, but Johnson and Condon are hoping to welcome more boxers and add more classes in the future.

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