Punching out Parkinson’s
Boxing program helps those with neurodegenerative disorder symptoms

By EILEEN MIZINSKI SCHMIDT - Special to Conley Media

Feb. 17, 2019

               

Lee Houk and Mike Fort work on a boxing drill at a Rock Steady Boxing Class this week at Lake Country Racquet & Athletic Club in Hartland.

Eileen Schmidt/Special to Conley Media

HARTLAND — The four men moved from warmup stretches, to lunges, to passing a weighted ball, to jump roping motions in place.

When sufficiently warm, they strapped on their gloves and made their way to the punching bags.

It was time to start boxing.

To an observer, the class, held this week at Lake Country Racquet & Athletic Club, might appear a challenging non-contact boxing workout. And a thorough session it was, but the workout also had a special objective — to help the participants with symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.

The class, through a program called Rock Steady Boxing, has been expanding to fitness centers nationally and internationally in recent years and is fairly new to the Hartland area club.

“It’s forced, intensive exercise. It’s very purposeful,” said Ann Glor, group fitness director at Lake Country Racquet & Athletic Club.

Glor spent a week at the Rock Steady Boxing headquarters in Indianapolis last May preparing for the Hartland club to become an affiliate of the program.

Gloves at a recent Rock Steady Boxing class at Lake Country Racquet & Athletic Club in Hartland.

Eileen Schmidt/Special to Conley Media

It launched at the club in January.

“I didn’t want to rush the process. I wanted to make sure we had all our ducks in a row,” said Glor, who is the head coach and coordinator of the program.

In addition to Glor, there are now five coaches working for the Rock Steady classes and 10 participants. The club is accepting more applications, and a few new ones arrived last week, according to Glor.

Applicants participate in an assessment before beginning classes, and then are assigned a level. The levels allow the classes to be tailored to a range of Parkinson’s symptoms, including those utilizing a wheelchair or walker.

“We want to try to get them engaged as soon as possible to delay symptoms,” Glor said.

‘Work out your anger’

The Rock Steady program got its start when Scott Newman, a former Marion County prosecutor in Indiana, was diagnosed with early onset Parkinson’s at age 40, according to the Rock Steady Boxing website.

“He got very angry. His friend said, ‘Come box with me, work out your anger.’ As he started doing it, his mental health started getting better but his symptoms improved too,” Glor said.

Parkinson’s disease is a neurodegenerative disorder in which symptoms develop over time, according to Parkinson.org, the website for the Parkinson’s Foundation. Currently, there is not a cure for the disease and treatment focuses on mitigating symptoms, the site said.

In 2006, Newman and his friend Vince Perez went on to create Rock Steady Boxing, a nonprofit organization designed to “attack Parkinson’s at its vulnerable neurological points,” according to the website. The organization now bills its mission as empowering people with Parkinson’s “to fight back.”

              

Rock Steady Boxing coach Marie Kolstad leads boxers in a warmup for a class this week at Lake Country Racquet & Athletic Club in Hartland.  Rock Stead Boxing is a non-contact boxing fitness program designed to be beneficial to those with Parkinson's Disease.

Eileen Schmidt/Special to Conley Media

In the Milwaukee area, the Rock Steady classes are also offered at locations in New Berlin and West Bend.

The classes in Hartland, which are offered four times a week, each run for an hour and a half. A lengthy warmup is designed to help with muscle rigidity, and Glor said coaches are trained to help participants adjust their bodies to the workout depending on where they are in their medication cycle. Drills focus on agility, balance, dexterity, and core workouts to prevent a forward posture that can affect those with Parkinson’s.

Classes also include vocal activities, as Parkinson’s can impact voices.

“A big piece of it too is the mental component,” Glor added. “Hitting something feels good. To work out aggression and anger and depression.”

A sense of community

Glor said there was interest in bringing the program to the Lake Country Club in part because she and others at the club have family members with Parkinson’s. She added that the classes also provide a sense of community.

“You get them in there and they are taking about who their neurologist is. It’s a safe space to talk about it, and to pick on the disease a little bit,” she said.

Classes can be purchased in groups, with a lower pricing schedule offered for club members. A set of four sessions for members is $48 and $60 for non-members.

At the recent class, coach Marie Kolstad’s white board outlined the sessions’ components. As participants paired off for drills, Lee Houk said he has been attending for about two weeks and has noticed some balance improvement.

Glor said medical research indicates that forced, intensive exercise is helpful for those with Parkinson’s.

She added that as the Rock Steady program continues at the club, she plans to track how helpful participants feel the classes are.

Her early observations include one area participant who sometimes has shuffling steps when he walks in, but after the warmup says he “feels like Superman.”

“We actually have to slow him down,” she said.

For more information or to find an area Rock Steady Boxing class, visit rocksteadyboxing. org.