In day to day life, there is always some difficulty to fight against. The usual constraints of time and money are enough to wear a person down. For others, there is a more personal struggle. Now, instead of just being a form of sports entertainment, the sweet science will now become an aid to medical science.
The Randolph YMCA is host to The Rock Steady Boxing program which incorporates boxing exercises into the workout of people afflicted with Parkinson’s disease. Randolph is only the second YMCA facility to have this, with the town of Garwood being the first. In total, there are now five locations that have joined in this endeavor.
Kathy Fisher is the Operations Director for Randolph and has been overseeing Rock Steady since its inception last year. Fisher has been the program director for fourteen years. She also has had experience in the world of boxing. She was a USA Boxing coach working with Peter Alindato who in who fought for a time under the legendary trainer Cus D’Amato, the very same trainer who would later take a young Mike Tyson under his wing.
Fisher is one of the sixty trainees that have helped promote Rock Steady Boxing. It began a little more than ten years ago when a former prosecutor from Marion County, Indiana developed Parkinson’s. Scott C. Newman was diagnosed with the illness at forty, but decided to train like a boxer and fight back to battle the illness.
Parkinson’s is a nationwide challenge. According to the Parkinson’s disease Foundation, one million Americans are affected by the disease. It is also estimated that 60,000 cases are diagnosed a year. Financially, a patient with Parkinson’s spends on average $2,500 yearly on treatment alone.
The members of the class range from 40-year-olds to a sprightly 90-year-old. The classes themselves are graded from numbers one to four. These mark the progression of the disease and the modification the exercise needs. Class four is the toughest one; this includes members that might need the use of a wheelchair.
Exercises begin with standard warm-up routines and progress to shadow boxing. Traditional boxing equipment like punching bags is also used. According to the YMCA, these rigors help build strength, flexibility and speed for those who are afflicted.
Fisher supervises four coaches and under them are seventeen volunteers. Classes contain a maximum of fifteen participants. Within each class, there are a total of fifteen boxers in training. Though these classes are small, the advantage is that there is more individualized attention. This is especially important when dealing with certain variables that comes with the disease i.e. age, severity, or amount of medication.
Within the program’s system, there is a focus on evaluating progress. Fisher recounts how one boxer progressed. “We have a member, for example, who started on a cane and now she’s running the length of the room without a cane,” said Fisher.
Some physicians are hesitant to put their patients through a combat sport like boxing. Their misgivings are allayed when they are told that this program is non-contact. Fisher cites legend Muhammad Ali’s own battle with Parkinson’s as the reason for their reluctance. “Ali, according to medical research, is just a boxer that happened to get Parkinson’s,” said Fisher.
Besides the usual boxing training, they also have aquatic boxing. The physical activities remain the same, but with the added resistance of the water. The major advantage is there is no need to fear falling and becoming injured. The worst consequence is the possibility of getting wet.
In all, these boxers work out three times a week: twice doing the standard Rock Steady regimen and once using the pool for these same exercises.
A positive atmosphere is very important to the development of these boxers. Signs bearing phrases like “I am strong,” and “I am winning this fight” are placed throughout the room. There are a multitude of emotions that are released in the class, from tears to laughter. “It changes their life and it changes their outlook on life because they have a much more positive attitude,” said Fisher. “They say a lot of times: ‘I was in this really dark place and now I look forward to getting out of bed in the morning and I love coming to class.’”
Not only is this program growing at the facility in Randolph, but so is its own public image. They recently participated in Unity Walk. This special event raises public awareness of the disease in New York’s Central Park.
Even in their own facility, the class will be moving into the main building where there will be three times as much space and equipment. The hope is that more will be served. “We turn no one away. So, if you come in walking or come in a wheelchair, we’re going to work with you,” said Fisher.