Nearly 1 million people in the U.S. are living with Parkinson’s Disease. An American is diagnosed every 9 minutes. I think when some people hear ‘Parkinson’s Disease’ they think it affects the older population, with tremors and slower movement. That might be true for some, but being diagnosed with Parkinson's is different for everyone. When I got Certified as a Rock Steady Boxing Coach, a neurologist spoke with us and said, "If you met one person with Parkinson’s, you have met one person with Parkinson's." I think this is the most frustrating thing for diagnosed patients and their loved ones. Parkinson’s is an ongoing, progressive disease of the nervous system which affects your movement. There is no cure. There are medications to help control the symptoms but one thing that is scientifically proven to delay the progression of Parkinson's Disease is EXERCISE. That’s right. MOVEMENT. One particular organization has really put their foot down on the gas pedal and made some significant strides in helping people with Parkinson's live better lives. That organization is Rock Steady Boxing.
Rock Steady Boxing was founded in 2006 and has grown to over 900 affiliates across the globe. We added to that ever-increasing number in 2018 with our very own Rock Steady Boxing program at Western Racquet.
Western held Rock Steady Boxing classes 3 times per week in our gym that was filled with heavy bags, speed bags, and many other pieces of equipment to help with balance, dexterity, motor control, handwriting, and more. Besides the equipment, we filled the room with Certified Coaches, Volunteers, Caregivers (we call them Cornermen), and of course, our boxers (people with Parkinson's). We had an average of 26 boxers who dedicated 75 minutes 3 times a week with us, working on Voice Activation, Mobility, Core Work, Strength Exercises, Balance, Movement, and of course, heavy bags and speed bags. And, we had SO MUCH FUN.
I have never seen a group of people work so hard not only during class but all day long. One of our boxers once told me that Parkinson's was his "full-time job" now. And for many Parkinson's sufferers, that's the case - making sure you are continuously moving to eating the right foods to taking medications on time and making sure your mental health is in a good place.
Our Rock Steady Boxing classes were magic. I know that sounds a bit corny but they truly were! I could see the difference in their movement from the time they walked in to the time they left. They walked taller, smiled bigger, and confidence was at an all-time high. Of course, it was not always easy. Having Parkinson’s means every day is different. Every stride, every turn, every step up to a curb feels different minute by minute. But the one thing we all had was each other. We are a big happy family and had each others' back in and outside the gym.
Fast forward to COVID-19. We were all absolutely heartbroken to learn we could not have class for a while. We truly thought we would be back in "about 2 weeks". Remember when we were focused on "flattening the curve" so we could get right back to normal? As the first few weeks went by and numbers continued to rise, Coach Katie, Sara, and I knew we had to come up with a plan to keep our Boxers moving. We were recording homework for them, did a weekly check-in email, phone calls here and there...but being together is what we really needed.
With the help of Dance For PD instructor, Lisa Pritzl, we figured out how we could virtually get our group back together again. We started with a Happy Hour to teach them the ins and outs of using Zoom, then we slowly added our classes back virtually.
We successfully brought our indoor crazy high energy fun class virtually to their living rooms. We still get loud and we still play jokes on each other. We still laugh and dance and sing. Oh, and we workout too!
I am SO proud of our boxers for taking the fear of the unknown (technology) and continuing to fight back against Parkinson’s Disease. I am so proud of us, the Coaches, and all of the Rock Steady Boxing Affiliates who transferred their classes to a virtual platform. This year proved that there really is NOTHING that will stop us from fighting and living our best life.