Story by Kim Willis
Photography by Teuta Shabani, Caesars Windsor
Not in her wildest dreams did Karen Ryan think she would take up boxing at the age of 75. However, thanks to the launch of Rock Steady Boxing in Windsor last fall she has become a huge fan. The Parkinson Society Southwestern Ontario and Border City Boxing Club have teamed up to fight Parkinson’s disease with Rock Steady Boxing.
The program was founded in Indianapolis and has spread across North America as beneficial therapy for those diagnosed with Parkinson’s. The Southwestern Ontario office has programs set up in Kitchener, London and now Sarnia and Windsor.
“The program has really taken off,” says Lisa Nixon, Coordinator of Programs and Services, Parkinson’s Society Southwestern Ontario. “Exercise is a key element of treating people with Parkinson’s. Muscle stiffness, balance and speech are all affected by this disease. Boxing can be a great tool to deal with all of these things.”
Participants, from newly diagnosed to those who have been living with Parkinson’s for decades, are in the ring to fight this disease. Rock Steady classes are geared to people of all stages of Parkinson’s disease, including men and women ranging in age from under 30 to over 90.
Led by experienced boxing coaches and trainers, the program involves exercises that address both motor and non-motor symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. Participants coming into the program may be experiencing rigidity, slow movement, stiffness, weakness and soft speech. This program addresses these symptoms with drills for optimal agility, speed, muscular endurance, accuracy, hand-eye coordination, footwork and overall strength. Non-motor symptoms such as depression, anxiety, apathy and fatigue are addressed as well. Attending Rock Steady Boxing brings clients out into a fun, non-judgmental atmosphere.
“Rock Steady Boxing is a unique exercise program based on training used by boxing pros, and adapted to people with Parkinson’s disease,” said certified Coach Andre Gorges. “It involves regular exercises, such as stretching, bicycling, running, jump-roping, push-ups, balancing and non-contact boxing.”
All of the coaches for the program attended specialized training in Indianapolis.
Rock Steady Boxing offers a sense of community and is fun for everyone involved in the program. “We are excited to be offering classes that help people fight back against Parkinson’s,” says Lisa.
Rock Steady Boxing would not be possible without the generous support of a Caesars Windsor donation.
“Parkinson’s disease has affected many people in our community, including the families of our employees,” said Kevin Laforet, Regional President, Caesars. “Our donation to the Rock Steady Boxing program represents our hope to create a level of support for people living with this disease and give them a new beginning for life.”
Since 1994, Caesars Windsor Cares has donated over $13 million in funding and in-kind resources to support non-profits in their missions to positively impact the greatest number possible, in the Health and Wellness, Environment Sustainability and Conservation, Community Enrichment and Seniors.
Lisa is also grateful to the Windsor Firefighters Benefit Fund who supported the program by donating defibrillators to ensure participant safety.
Parkinson’s is a progressive neurological disorder resulting from the loss of dopamine in a part of the brain called substantia nigra. It is estimated that 100,000 Canadians are affected by Parkinson’s; and that everyday another 25 Canadians are newly diagnosed. While the average age of onset is between 50 and 60 years of age, it is not unusual to see people under 40 being diagnosed. Medication can lessen the symptoms, but currently there is no cure.
The Parkinson Society Southwestern Ontario is the voice of people living with Parkinson’s in Southwestern Ontario. Our purpose is to ease the burden and find a cure through support services, education, advocacy and research. They offer a monthly support group at Community Living Windsor.
“When I first started the program, I had trouble getting into the ring and had to be helped in. Now I can do it!” says Karen.
Karen was diagnosed with Parkinson’s five years ago. She first heard about the program while watching the TV program 60 Minutes a few years ago. Subsequently, she read articles that highlighted the benefits. She is also a member of the local Parkinson’s support group and was excited to learn that Rock Steady Boxing was coming to Windsor.
“I thought at the very least the program would be good exercise, but it has done so much more for me. My energy level is much higher and we have a lot of fun. The coaches are wonderful – I can’t believe that I’m doing the things I’m doing.”
Marg Lavoie, aged 59, started Rock Steady Boxing two months ago. Like Karen, she was somewhat apprehensive about getting into the boxing ring. However, she has been amazed by the results and her own abilities.
“It’s definitely strenuous, but my balance has definitely improved and I have more energy and sleep better.”
Lavoie also finds the environment to be extremely positive and attends three times per week.
“I keep thinking that this program would be beneficial for anyone regardless of having Parkinson’s. I have muscles that I didn’t know I had,” laughs Marg.
To participate in the program an intake assessment is conducted. This includes outfitting the participants with their boxing gloves and hand wraps. A medical form is also completed.
“It can be scary to get the diagnosis,” says Karen. “It’s motivating to see others with the disease working hard. The environment is so positive and everyone encourages one another.”
Karen also notes that anxiety, depression and fatigue can all be side effects of Parkinson’s and finds that Rock Steady Boxing helps with all of these things.
“I recommend this program to anyone with Parkinson’s. You might as well have some quality of life while you’re dealing with it.”
Classes run Monday, Thursday and Saturday at Border City Boxing Club. The cost to participate is $100/month. However, if cost is a barrier to participate individuals can contact the Parkinson’s Southwestern Ontario office for financial assistance.
To register for a class contact Rock Steady Boxing at 519 996 5623.