Fighting back: Parkinson’s patients find strength in boxing | TheUnion.com

Fighting back: Parkinson’s patients find strength in boxing

Steve Weber has five friends who are battling Parkinson's disease.

Five separate people in his life are fighting the ultimate battle against the neurological disorder that commonly shows itself through symptoms like tremors, speech changes, loss of automatic movements and slowed movement.

Instead of sitting around and worrying about his friends, however, outdoor and fitness enthusiast Weber decided to be proactive and help Parkinson's patients in the best way he knows how — through exercise.

Weber learned of a nonprofit organization based in Indianapolis called Rock Steady Boxing. The organization's founder, Scott Newman, had been diagnosed with Parkinson's and was inspired by studies conducted at University of Indianapolis and Butler University that found intense "focused" exercise may be neuro-protective, or can slow progression of the disease.

"I don't know if anybody knows the reason it works, but it does," said Weber. "And that's what the university studies have shown, that these short bursts of energy do have a positive affect on Parkinson's disease. All I can tell you is it works."

After training with Rock Steady and becoming an official affiliate, Weber took his idea to Training Zone gym in Grass Valley.

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"The whole class is based on the principles and training regiment that boxers go through to prepare for a fight," Weber said. "It's footwork. You've got to be balanced and if you have Parkinson's balance is incredibly important."

There are currently over one million people living with Parkinson's in the United States, and about 60,000 new patients are diagnosed each year. The disease is more often found in men than in women.

Weber explained that Rock Steady Boxing is the only exercise program that really addresses the Parkinson's issue, and Training Zone is the only venue in the county to offer it. He emphasizes it's not a cure, is a non-combative practice, and has been shown to aid Parkinson's patients in hand-eye coordination and cognitive exercise, not to mention the camaraderie found between the class' participants.

A typical class currently ranges from about six to eight people, and includes work with a variety of punching bags as well as one-on-one shadowboxing with Weber, who said that going through the motions of the class lends Parkinson's patients confidence and belief in their bodies. More than anything, he said, it gives them hope.

"Rock Steady Boxing really requires people to put out intense energy," said Weber, "and that means punching hard. We're not punching each other. It all starts out with the balance and the foot movement."

The special boxing classes do not require participants to have a membership at Training Zone, and they are offered four times weekly: at 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays. There is a drop-in fee of $10 per class.

"Everybody here is really wonderful people, and they all just give everything they have," Weber said of the Rock Steady students. "Sometimes they can punch hard, sometimes they can't, but we work with everybody no matter what stage they're in as long as they can move around."

Weber said he is continually impressed by the strength and determination of the students.

"Our motto is to have fun, and so we do a lot of that. Parkinson's is not for sissies," he said. "This group is fighting back as hard as they can."

Training Zone is located at 722 Freeman Lane, Suite B, in Grass Valley's Pine Creek Center. For more information call 530-273-9663.

Jennifer Nobles is a staff writer for The Union. She can be reached at jnobles@theunion.com or 530-477-4231.

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