Written by Art Petrosemolo
It’s a hideous disease that can strike children to seniors but puts many adults and seniors at risk from age 60 on. It robs many of their dignity and independence with increasing physical issues including balance, strength, flexibility, range of motion and tremors. No cure in sight and patients and spouses fight to stave off the symptoms.
Everyone knows someone, either a spouse, loved one or friend, who is fighting Parkinson’s.
You’re probably shaking your head and asking what the heck is Art writing about Parkinson’s for this week. Hang on, there is method in my madness.
In mid-spring while attending a lacrosse game at Franklin and Marshall College, I reconnected with a colleague, Ron Potier, who served as admissions director both at F&M and Elizabethtown College during his career. Ron is one of the giants in the field and respected nationwide. He was and is a good friend.
Now 84 and living at Homestead Village in Lancaster, he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s three years ago and has been battling dreaded symptoms for months. He changed his diet, exercised and worked with a physical therapist, but it was getting to him both mentally and physically.
Ron invited me to visit a couple of weeks ago and we sat on his back patio overlooking Lancaster farmland and had coffee. He wanted to tell me about a new Parkinson’s program he was involved with and how it was literally changing his outlook. It’s called Rock Steady Boxing (RSB) and uses a very strenuous, non-contact boxing workout to literally fight back against the disease and its symptoms.
It was started in 2006 by an Indianapolis lawyer who, at 40, contracted early-onset Parkinson’s and didn’t take it sitting down. He started, with a friend, a vigorous boxing workout and found it changed his life. He had more strength, better balance, more flexibility. He felt better and had a whole new outlook on life as the workouts slowed the Parkinson’s symptoms.
He packaged the program, called it Rock Steady Boxing, operating as a non-profit 501(c)(3) and began to market it nationwide. Well, as you’d expect there were lots and lots of skeptics. But reputable research showed that rigorous exercise emphasizing gross motor movement, balance, core strength and rhythm – all involved in Rock Steady Boxing – could favorably impact range of motion, flexibility, posture and gait which are the results of Parkinson’s.
The program has grown in the decade since Scott Newman founded it. Today, more than 20,000 adults with Parkinson’s do non-contact boxing at more than 400 locations worldwide.
RSB arrived in Lancaster at the first of the year. Certified Personal Trainer Sue Ludwig, who is also certified in Parkinson Wellness Recovery (PWR) and Delay the Disease training, which focuses on opening new neuropathways through repetitive movement for her Parkinson clients, learned about Rock Steady Boxing late in 2016. She was trained and certified in Indianapolis and kicked off the program in the old Jewish Community Center building gym on Oregon Pike early in 2017. She held an open house and through word of mouth and referrals, she has seen her initial 20 Parkinson’s RSB clients grow to nearly 100.
RSB sessions last 90 minutes and are accompanied by loud, high energy music. The nine minute segments are broken down to 45 seconds of exercise and 15 seconds of recovery. A boxing bell – similar to the one used to signal the start and end of boxing rounds – is used to manage the time periods.
Clients shadow box, strike standing dummies, heavy bags and the speed bag. They also spar with volunteers and the boxing is interspersed with agility drills, exercises and jumping rope. All participants are sweating like sprinters and love it. The programs end with a short, empty-the-tank, set of drills and then a yoga-like cool down period.
It has been a great help to both Parkinson’s sufferers and spouses. Personal Trainer and RSB volunteer Brenda Dorsey will soon be boxing certified and be able to help Ludwig expand the program locally. Brenda’s husband Bob, 70, has Parkinson’s and has seen better balance, strength and movement through the classes. “The program has made a world of difference for both Bob and me,” Dorsey says.
I have finished a story on the program for the Lititz Record. You may have also seen the segment by Leslie Stahl on CBS Sunday Morning about the program and how it has helped her husband Aaron who has Parkinson’s.
Here is the URL for the Rock Steady Boxing national website to learn more about the program: https://www.rocksteadyboxing.org.