THE BLOG
11/30/2015 04:48 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Rock Steady Boxing for People With Parkinson's Symptoms -- A National Perspective

As Thanksgiving begins, I'm aware of many things that many of us have to be thankful for. And for my Dad, who has the symptoms of Parkinson's but not yet a diagnosis - there is even one more thing to be thankful for.

A couple weeks ago, Lesley Stahl of 60 Minutes did an amazing expose on Rock Steady Boxing, a revolutionary program that was created ten years ago in Indianapolis, Indiana and is taking the country by storm (CBSNews, Fighting Back Against Parkinson's, 2015). There at least 62 affiliates in the US and a couple internationally and many more being added.

But what is Rock Steady Boxing or Boxing for Parkinson's some might call it?

As the 60 Minutes story indicates, it is a low impact exercise setting for people who have Parkinson's or similar neurological maladies. The core footprint of all of the exercises build on three concepts:
  • CONNECTION: Building relationships and rapport between those in the exercise group
  • CONSISTENCY: Engaging in multiple exercises that each work to build supports in areas where people might be suffering in terms of muscular or coordination loss.
  • COMPASSION: Every disease is a hard battle if you're alone, so by having a group of people who care about you and are present with you, there are many benefits that can be found.

So I was flying across the US to be with my Dad for the holiday and noticed that Rock Steady Boxing had a group at a YMCA near him. On a lark, we simply showed up.

What happened next greatly surprised me, everyone in the group of 11 including us. By the way, my Dad is a proud Spartan, a 1961 graduate of Michigan State University. And in his honor, I have the privilege of working in the great state of Michigan as well!

But here we were, a thousand miles from all that, and just settling into a group of newfound friends. Each person was introducing themselves and at the same time tossing a basketball to the next person. When it came to the lady before my Dad, she said she was from East Lansing, Michigan. I instinctively let out a holler because I live in Lansing - Michigan's amazing capital city! Dad added a walloping shout that he was a Spartan. Then the trainer said that she was a Spartan and also had been director at the YMCA in Michigan where I am a member! Finally, another person in the group said they were a Spartan. I had died for a moment and gone to MSU heaven - and then I came back to life as did everyone, excited and with renewed vigor!

So, then the exercises started. Here is what I did with Dad (Yes, I participated too!). He participated in each one, though admitting at first with a chuckle that I kind of sprung on him the idea of actually participating in the group.

The exercises that the trainer led us in (and I participated too) were:

ExercisePurpose or Rationale
Walking frontwards and sideways over sticks that were 6 inches high To counter shuffling and aid in balance
Shaking the 20 foot ropes Boy these were heavy at first! They build some core strength and coordination
Punching the feed bag (big punching bag) How enjoyable this was; a left, a right, two lefts and a right, pow, pow!
Punching the small punching bagRocky Balboa, here I come, this builds eye hand coordination and stamina
Playing catch with a red Nerf ballOkay, 2 feet apart is easy but what about 8 or 10 feet apart. Dad said I really zinged him once, but he kept on catching and throwing!
Playing circle catch in the group with one or even two basketballs going at all timesWow, that's a bit of teamwork. You've got to help the person next to you so they know what's coming!!
Pulling the rubber jump rope over your head with arms in many formats to stretch outBehind the back, side to side, and then reaching for the sky, these poses really improve agility!!!

And here are some amazing photos of Dad and the rest of the group.

Pow, pow, jab, jab, 'Go get them, Dad!'

A National Perspective on Rock Steady Boxing is that it is offering a great hope to people with Parkinson's or Parkinson's-like symptoms so they can build the skills that they are beginning to see ebb. We need a national effort to help control and correct Parkinson's. The fact is that sometimes in the US, we struggle with caring about people with diseases. Sometimes we just don't know how to help; and other times, the resources are not readily available.

But Rock Steady Boxing is an amazing program that is bridging the gap. I strongly encourage every reader to investigate this program and see if there is one in their area if they or a loved on has a need.

Lastly, I want to share that the Dr. I saw advised Dad not to get any therapy at all, but to wait while all of the expensive tests were being done. Now I know that doctors are super important, but waiting is not always a good idea, even when it has the best interests of health involved. So, I decided to be Dad's doctor for a day. And since Rock Steady Boxing is more like a light fitness program for people who are serious about their health, it's not much different than a vigorous walk on the beach and a swim. Even better, it is with people who care and with exercises that can help.

While I don't advise anyone to ignore their doctor, I simply want to say that my Dad's health is more important to me than the idea of waiting. Look at Dad's joy, and look at his sparkle. That could be yours too!

After dinner on the same day, Dad shared with his Partner that he wanted her to go to the classes with him because 'they really helped.' Wow, now that's progress AND something to be super Thankful for (considering I had 'sprung it on him' earlier that day!)

Happy Thanksgiving to Lesley Stahl & her courageous, inspiring husband Aaron Latham, and the worldwide team at Rock Steady Boxing along with all those who are engaged in this important work!

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