Punching out Parkinson's


The image of Parkinson’s disease is impressed on the minds of most Americans. Picture Michael J. Fox’s trembling plea for stem cell research; picture the “greatest” Muhammad Ali’s shaky attempt to light the Olympic torch. That’s the image of Parkinson’s disease.

Yet some sufferers from the disease are training to knock out the symptoms and reclaim their lives. Some are finding that hope of reclaiming control of their bodies at a boxing gym on Indianapolis’ Eastside.

Former Marion County Prosecutor Scott Newman, along with Vince Perez, began the Rock Steady Boxing Gym, a not-for-profit organization that caters to young girls, women and those with Parkinson’s disease. They also offer “executive boxing” for men.

Executive Director and former professional boxer Kristy Follmar, 26, who helps train members, says, “The purpose of Rock Steady is to provide ‘boxing for fitness’ classes. We aren’t about training for competition, though after training here for four to six weeks, sparring is optional.”

The classes for females and “executive” males help fund Rock Steady, so that they can offer free classes to Parkinson’s sufferers.

Newman knows firsthand not only about Parkinson’s, but also how a boxing workout can help alleviate the symptoms. Newman, 45, was the Marion County prosecutor from 1995 through 2002. At the age of 41, he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. “I knew it for a year before the ‘official’ diagnosis. I had met Janet Reno and saw the same signs.”

He lost control of his hands and could no longer type. In fact, he couldn’t even sign his name. Working from a voice-activated computer, Newman stayed in his own apartment most of the time. “Parkinson’s is a really self-conscious disease. You don’t want to go out in public.”

But then he met a former Nebraska Golden Gloves Champion and practicing lawyer, Vince Perez. Perez asked Newman to work out with him — a boxing workout — and within three weeks, Newman’s symptoms decreased. He could sign his name; he could skip rope and do a regular boxing workout.

Perez says of Newman, “This guy is tenacious. I always believed that too much is just about right, when it comes to working out. Scott has surpassed the goals that I created for our workouts.”

And now they want to pass on their knowledge to all who suffer from Parkinson’s. Perez states, “Our goal is to provide an environment that makes everyone feel welcomed, especially those with Parkinson’s. We want them to feel, not just comfortable, but confident. By being a part of our program, they can go out and live a day-to-day life in the real world.”

For Newman and those who attend the boxing classes, the workout, a mixture of cardio and strength training, alleviates the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.

Follmar is convinced. “What we’ve seen here is nothing short of miraculous. One man has just regained the ability to clap his hands. These people work so much harder than anyone else in the gym. To see people who can’t even jump when they get here, four weeks later skipping rope like a pro is amazing.”

According to Follmar, the intense workout benefits the participants by raising their dopamine levels. “People with Parkinson’s lose dopamine. The workouts increase the dopamine levels in the brain, resulting in a lessening of the symptoms.”

Follmar also believes that a boxing workout is the perfect workout. Having boxed as a professional for three years, compiling a record of 15-1, she knows how difficult, yet how effective, boxing training can be. “We think boxing works so well because it combines cardio and strength training without being boring. When training, you work on a heavy bag, speed bag, hit the mitts and skip rope. It’s not like running on a treadmill for an hour.”

What they hope to see is more funding and more interest from the medical community. Newman states, “It would be nice to have some doctors actually measure what’s going on here.”

But, as Newman, Perez and Follmar know, this program, which began in October of 2006, is just beginning. They have seen the successes; they hope that they can continue through grants and public support. “It’s early in the game, so it’s hard to tell how long we can keep afloat. Right now, the funding is coming from our women and executive boxing classes and, quite frankly, from my pocket,” Newman says. “We want people with Parkinson’s to know that they can feel better.”

Rock Steady

Rock Steady Boxing, a not-for-profit organization, accepts donations. Profits will be donated to Parkinson’s research, including the Michael J. Fox Foundation. As of now, Scott Newman finances the programs. He hopes that, through grants and donations, Rock Steady Boxing will be able to continue offering free services to those with Parkinson’s.

The gym is located at 2002 Wellesley Blvd., near 21st and Shadeland Avenue, in the Premier Credit building. Classes are held throughout the week.

Parkinson’s classes

Mondays, 9:30-11 a.m.

Wednesdays, 3-5 p.m. and 6-8 p.m.

Thursdays, 4-5:30 p.m.

Saturdays, 9-10:30 a.m.

Executive Boxing for Men

Mondays through Thursdays, 6:45-7:45 a.m.

Begun Feb. 5, Rock Steady offers a mother/daughter class, which provides workouts for both mothers and daughters.

ACTION Donations can be sent to the gym or made through the Rock Steady Web site or you can contact Rock Steady via the Web site, http://rocksteadyboxing.org, or by phone, 317-223-2970. All donations are tax deductible.



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