Parkinson's patients give disease the one-two punch at gym

Parkinson's patients give disease the one-two punch at gym
Updated: Aug. 15, 2018 at 3:19 PM EDT
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HENRICO, VA (WWBT) - When you think of Parkinson's patients, envisioning them strapping on boxing gloves isn't the first thing that comes to mind. But at Rocky Steady Boxing in Henrico, every single one of the gym's fighters is also battling the disease.

Parkinson's disease impairs movement, degrading the brain's dopamine that controls mobility. Rock Steady Boxing members are knocking out their symptoms with a one-two punch.

"The shuffling of the feet. When I walked, my arm was stiff," described Rock Steady Boxing member Joe D'Orazio, who was diagnosed with Parkinson's just three months ago.

D'Orazio already sees a difference with weekly boxing sessions at the gym, which opened late last year. Rock Steady Boxing is a nonprofit that's based in Indianapolis. There are 650 Rock Steady Boxing gyms internationally.

"I had difficulty with my right side, brushing my teeth, shaving. That's improved since I've been coming here," D'Orazio said. "Push yourself as much as you can push yourself."

Rock Steady Boxing co-owner and physical therapist Leisl Hymes says boxing targets the shaking and motor symptoms specific to Parkinson's disease.

Hymes owns and operates the gym with her partner, Lindsay Dawson, who is also a full-time physical therapist. Hymes says shows that high intensity workouts are best for facing off with Parkinson's.

"(Rock Steady members) go back to the neurologist, and their neurologist says you look better than I've seen you in four or five years," said Hymes.

Perhaps the most unique aspect of Rock Steady is that patients with any stage of Parkinson's can join the training, even if they can't walk.

"Everything we do can be adapted to be done seated. So, we do have some people who come in a wheelchair," continued Hymes.

However, despite the motivating environment, an opponent like Parkinson's can feel like a losing match, at times.

"You get frustrated because you're used to being active and being able to do things," described D'Orazio.

That's why the emotional support that Rock Steady Boxing offers is just as valuable as the physical benefit.

"If somebody doesn't show up for a week or two, they're asking about each other," said Hymes.

"It's a great comradery of individuals," said D'Orazio, "It's really uplifting when you're finished. You feel really good."

There are eight classes a week here at Rock Steady Boxing. Be sure, no one at the gym is throwing in the towel.

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