Mo. ó "Up, up, up! Down, down, down! Side, side,
side!" the trainer commanded as Jay Brunk, diagnosed five
years ago with Parkinsonís disease, tried to punch the mitts
on the constantly moving hands. "Perfect, perfect,
perfect!," the trainer yelled with each thump of Brunkís
boxing gloves against the targets.
are as strong as an ox," trainer Jerry Morrison told him.
I used to be," said Brunk, a broad-shouldered 62-year-old
man who spent much of his life in construction.
still are. You still are," Morrison said. "Trust
fighting the debilitating effects of Parkinsonís by
participating in the St. Louis areaís first Rock Steady
Boxing class that began a month ago. The class, held at the
Chesterfield Athletic Club, uses boxing-like drills to
strengthen abilities that Parkinsonís attacks: agility,
speed, endurance, accuracy, hand-eye coordination, footwork
and overall strength.
is a progressive, degenerative neurological disease with no
cure. The brain declines in producing the neurotransmitter
dopamine, which helps regulate movement.
can experience tremors, loss of balance and coordination,
stooped posture, slow speech and cognitive impairment. The
disease progresses differently in each person, but symptoms
can become so severe that patients need a wheelchair and
assistance with daily activities. More than 1 million people
in the U.S. live with the disease.
medications can temporarily relieve the symptoms of Parkinsonís,
but research has shown that exercise is important in slowing
the progression and improving symptoms in Parkinsonís
McKee, 47, of Frontenac, Mo., brought the Rock Steady
franchise to St. Louis after researching ways to ease symptoms
for her father, who was diagnosed with Parkinsonís about 10
years ago. It seemed like the perfect thing for her dad, who
has long been fit and active, for two big reasons.
itís cool. Itís got a cool factor," McKee said.
"Second, is the explosiveness."
her dad played golf, his tremors would go away as he hit the
ball, she said. "I just knew the explosiveness of
throwing punches would feel good."
sent two athletic trainers she knew at the Chesterfield
Athletic Club to earn certification to teach the program and
has also become certified herself. Since starting the first
week of April, five to 10 people attend classes held every
Monday and Wednesday.
and his wife drive an hour-and-a-half from Ste. Genevieve
County to come to the class. They were driving two hours to
the affiliate in Columbia, Mo., which opened in February. Like
others in the class, they talked of the need to fight.
is about taking control of a diagnosis that has no hope and
putting hope into it," said Jan Brunk, 62. "It gives
you a feeling that you are doing something, rather than
sitting here waiting for it to progress."
Steady Boxing was founded in Indianapolis in 2006 by former
Marion County Prosecutor Scott Newman, who was diagnosed with
Parkinsonís at the early age of 39. A few years after his
diagnosis, he discovered that training like a boxer lessened
his symptoms and opened a gym.
demand for classes increased and word spread about its
success, Newman created an affiliate program to train teachers
in the method and bring it to other cities. Today, there are
more than 125 programs in 32 states as well as Canada, Italy
Brent Meyer, 32, teaches the program in Chesterfield along
with Morrison, 61. "When people get diagnosed with
Parkinsonís. They get this feeling of, ĎJust give up,í
They fall into a cycle of anxiety about the future,"
Meyer said. Heís found that after the boxing classes, their
eyes brighten. "They start to realize, ĎI can do this.í
It gives them a whole new outlook on life," Meyer said.
STORY CAN END HERE)
OR LOSE IT
recent class, participants started with a warmup that included
twisting, squatting, balancing and passing drills with a
soccer-sized ball. They moved on to skills that included
walking through rings and ladders on the floor and walking a
straight line on their toes. They gritted their teeth through
a circuit of jabs and upper cuts to standing bags, speed bags
and a dummy."Whoís ready for round 2?" Meyer asked
after completing the demanding circuit. The group strapped
their gloves back on with determination.
stood on the side, supporting not just their loved ones, but
one another. All needed hope in their corner. Jeff Graves, 75,
of Twin Oaks, Mo., crossed his fingers and said, "Iím
encouraged. Iím hopeful to at least stabilize this
thing." His wife, Loretta, was the only woman in the
group. Men are twice as likely to develop Parkinsonís as
Earhart, director of the physical therapy program at
Washington University School of Medicine, has studied how
different forms of exercise such as walking on a treadmill,
ballroom dance and tai chi improve Parkinsonís symptoms. All
forms of exercise have been found to be helpful, she said, and
high-intensity activities may be particularly beneficial.
totally important for people to be active and move,"
Earhart said. "The key is finding an activity that they
enjoy and appreciate over a long time, because it is a Ďuse
it or lose ití phenomenon."
larger and long-term studies are needed to find what
particular mix of strength, cardiovascular and agility
exercises are optimal. But many are still not learning the
basics about how helpful it is to be active.
neurologists and practitioners often may not be pushing people
toward exercise," Earhart said, "Medication tends to
be the first approach people use, but I think medication and
exercise are equally important."
diagnosed, Earhart would like to see patients referred to a
physical therapist who can design an exercise program around
their abilities and goals using resources like Rock Steady
Boxing. Currently, patients are not referred to a therapist
until they fall and hurt themselves.
can be a lot of benefit to evaluating people early on,"
she said. "We can design an exercise program they can do
on their own in the community, and we would have a lot more
success than the current model."
enrolling students in Rock Steady Boxing classes, trainers
perform a lengthy assessment of the participants so they can
tailor the drills based on abilities. Classes at Chesterfield
are currently for higher-functioning patients, but classes
will be added for all levels as needed, McKee said.
McKee became interested in the program to help her father, who
lives in Kentucky, it has become much more. "I just want
to help this population," she said. "I wanted to do
something that mattered, and this mattered to me."
said he hasnít seen change yet in his symptoms, but he looks
forward to the classes, which give him a sense of
fix-it kind of person, he said. "Itís a challenge, and
I like a challenge. I get a sense of satisfaction when I feel
like Iím doing it right."