A voice whispered in my ear, “You’re not strong enough to withstand the storm.”
Today I shouted back, “I AM THE STORM.”
The evidence is clear. If we want to enjoy the benefits of exercise as a combatant against the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, we must be willing to taste the salty brine of our own sweat. If your individual desire is to reduce the amount of medication you must take, sustain or even improve your motor skills, put away your cane, enjoy an overall better quality of life, there are only two requirements. Yes, the only two things you absolutely must do are (1) participate regularly and (2) try to push through your perceived limit each time. Regardless of your choice of exercise, you must exercise at a high-intensity level. Well, if that’s all there is to it, why boxing? Why indeed does a boxing workout keep coming up as the gold standard weapon against the progression of the symptoms of the disease? Why have over 100 new Rock Steady Boxing affiliates been added this year alone bringing the total to 450-plus affiliates worldwide?
The success of non-combat boxing as therapy for Parkinson’s disease is based upon two well supported premises. First, to elicit a positive response from exercise against PD symptoms, the exercise must be high-intensity; second, boxing is one of the most, if not the most intensive of all workouts. New York Rock Steady boxer, Aaron Latham, aptly put this into perspective, when he said “boxing works because it’s the exact opposite of Parkinson’s.” A boxing workout, by its very nature, is rigorous and demanding, and it recruits effort from the entire body to improve multiple fitness domains. Those domains would include, but not be limited to, endurance, stamina, flexibility, coordination, balance, etc., all of which (and more) are vulnerable to the damaging effects of the disease. Topend Sports picked boxing as their number one sport requiring the greatest all around level of fitness. ESPN assembled a panel of experts to rank 60 sports from most to least difficult/demanding based on *the ten recognized fitness domains." Again, boxing emerged as the #1 sport demanding the most from athletes who compete in it. In case you’re interested, #60 was fishing. Dr. Lisa Shulman, director of the University of Maryland Parkinson’s Disease and Movement Disorders Center, stated that the benefits of various high-intensity exercises tend to be specific to the form of exercise. Walking improves gait but not strength. Strength training makes you stronger but not more aerobically fit. “There is good reason to believe that because boxing combines multiple types of activities, it has special benefits.” So, if fighting back against the progression of PD symptoms is predicated on pushing one’s entire body to its limits and beyond, then boxing has to be the workout of choice. We box because it’s tough, and it makes us tough. And tough is the only thing that PD understands.
Because boxing as a sport demands a high level of performance across all fitness domains, it follows that the workout lends well to being diverse and adaptable. In this way it allows the coach to customize each session, make on-the-spot changes and cater to individual needs and abilities. Also, boxing workouts have none of the monotony associated with so many target-specific exercises because it has a nearly endless number of possible combinations. Few if any other sports offer this blend of variety and intensity.
Too often understated, a sense of community support, camaraderie, and fun very quickly develops among PD warriors. We realize that we can only fight our best fight with others by our side and us at their side. A boxing program also builds a sense of empowerment, self-confidence, and provides a safe haven to vent frustration in a non-judgemental environment. On more than one occasion, I have heard people who were relocating to another area, moving from a community where they made their home and raised their family, say the hardest thing about making the move was leaving their boxing against Parkinson’s program behind.
So there we have it. It’s not a fair fight; it seldom is. We have battled Parkinson's now for nearly six months and we're still standing, each and every one of us. We weren't out to pick a fight when PD found us, but now individually and as a community, we are growing stronger, much stronger. So, if that voice that whispered in my ear was the voice of Parkinson’s, then we are .......... THE STORM
*The ten recognized fitness domains: Endurance, Stamina, Strength, Flexibility, Power, Speed, Coordination, Agility, Balance, and Accuracy.
In a room filled with people whose paths might have never crossed, who would have likely lived out their lives never knowing each other, an extraordinary event occurred on the evening of February 23, 2018. A community of PD warriors, Rural Health Scholars, families, guests and other contributors, all engaged in the fight against Parkinson’s disease, came together to celebrate their loyalty to one another and their dedication to a common cause…combat the progression of symptoms through rigorous physical activity and innovative therapy.
After everyone was seated, I noticed a single conspicuously empty chair at a table near the middle of the room, somewhat set apart is if it might be reserved for an important guest. I couldn’t help but notice that the chair remained empty as everyone in attendance enjoyed a wonderful dinner and lively conversation. The room was filled with a feeling of camaraderie and unity as we recounted our battle against the common foe. Equally important, for two hours, we were able to cast off the circumstances that brought us together in the first place and just enjoy each other’s company.
Hayley and Karen presented a memorable program, recognizing the contribution of the Rural Health Scholars Program, the Utah Center for Rural Health, Southwest Parkinson’s Disease Fitness Alliance, our cooperators at Snap Fitness, our affiliate Rock Steady Boxing, as well as individual contributors. Hayley spoke with a heartfelt emotion about the close bonds between Rural Health volunteers and PD warriors. Karen enthusiastically presented a timeline of the events leading up to opening day in September, 2017, and the program growth since. Also, she reminded everyone that the Center for Rural Health will be hosting a community Parkinson’s Disease awareness event April 4th at Snap Fitness. I momentarily turned back around only to see that lone mysterious place at the table in the middle of the room still vacant.
The highlight of the evening was the recognition of three spotlight** PD warriors and the conferring of their fighter nicknames by Hayley, Andrew and Jaxson. Hayley read from Dee’s spotlight about her life filled with a love of staying active and involved. She noted that, even in the boxing gym, Dee is often doing a little dance or mouthing the words of a tune between exercise stations. For this, Dee received from Hayley the fighter name of “DANCING BOXER.” When face-to-face with the heavy bag, Gordon lifts his head, straightens his back and unleashes a flurry of rapidly delivered punches that can be heard throughout the entire gym. Andrew conferred upon Gordon his fighter nickname “THE STORM.” Jaxson spoke about Scott being pound-for-pound one of the fittest PD fighters in our program. He noted that recently faced with serious illness, Scott was back in the gym with his gloves on in record time. From this point forward, Scott will be known as the “KNOCKOUT WARRIOR.”
After Jens brought us all in and gave us our break, the evening drew to a close. Still bothered by the empty place at that table in the center of the room, and wondering who would want to miss such a celebration of friendship and unity, strength and support, I wandered over. The symbolism was irrepressible. I let out a gasp as the breath escaped my body and I realized the empty place at the table represented Parkinson’s. Tonight, the disease was held in abeyance by a room full of people, the first of whom only five months ago this Sunday, locked arms, put up a unified front and said “NOT WITHOUT A FIGHT.”
I’ll see you at the gym,
February 23, 2018
*You can see Dee’s, Gordon’s and Scott’s full spotlights on this website. Click the link above, Spotlights and Testimonials.
I discovered something about myself over the Thanksgiving break. I learned that I am not a gym rat. You know you're turning into a gym rat if:
• You have a favorite punching bag and you named it.
• You missed the birth of your son because you were at the gym (and you named him after Arnold Schwarzenegger)
• Other patrons ask your advice because they think you work there.
• The owner thinks you work there.
• Your have mail delivered to the gym.
• You only vacation in places where there is a gym no farther than a half day's drive. And you pay someone to guard your home gym locker while you're away.
Although I really do enjoy a good workout, it has not become an obsession. I don't do it for its own sake; I do it because it is necessary. It's my new normal. I must confess, I prefer the subtle smell of a turkey in the oven to the scent of human sweat blended with gym air freshener. I prefer the giggles of my grandchildren to the clanging of barbells. No, I am not a gym rat, but I am a PD warrior. I am motivated by reward, not by guilt. I am learning that if I work out often and I work out hard, and I help others do the same, my life when I am not working out is enriched. This is my purpose and my reward.
It is evident that we as a community have put up a unified front and, with the help of our coaches and volunteers, we have more than held our own against a formidable foe over the last two months. This has been no small accomplishment. However, we must not forget what got us to this point. Tomorrow we lock arms again and resume the fight. See you at the gym.
Member, Southwest Parkinson's Fitness Alliance