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Parkinsons' patients fight back with boxing moves

Tuesday December 18, 2012

Debby Knox

www.wishtv.com - A boxing program for Parkinson's patients is steadily expanding beyond Indiana's borders.

Rock Steady, which was started in 2006 by former Marion County Prosecutor Scott Newman - who is a Parkinson's patient himself - has several affiliates in central Indiana and in Florida, Ohio and California.

The program is based on a boxing regimen, with a great deal of emphasis on agility, speed, muscular endurance, accuracy, footwork and overall strength. Sixteen classes are held at a northeast side gym every week, with a range of classes.

Parkinson's is a neurological disorder that affects close to 1.5 million people in the United States.
It has no cure nor has research determined a cause. Dr. Abraham Lieberman, a noted movement
disorder specialist, describes it as "people trapped in their bodies." Symptoms are progressive
and can include involuntary tremors, rigidity, pain and loss of balance.

Rock Steady's head coach is Kristy Follmar, a 2003 graduate of Ball State University. Kristy began her boxing career as Indiana Golden Gloves Women's Champion of 1999 and 2000. These days, she coaches upwards of 20 Parkinson's patients in each of her classes.

"The metaphor couldn't be more dead on," said Follmar. "These people are literally fighting back against this disease. It's a lot of fun to do these exercises, but there's a lot of functionality behind a boxers workout."

A number of studies in the 1980s and 1990s support the notion that intense "forced" exercise can be neuro protective, meaning it can actually slow disease progression. At the very least the boxing program gives hope and a sense of camaraderie among the Parkinson’s patient/athletes.

Steve Gilbert, a cancer survivor and Parkinson's patient said since he began to work out steadily with Rock Steady, he's run a marathon and climbed a mountain.

"The opportunities that I still have I cherish even more," he said. "I want to extend them and live as long as I can and as healthy as I can and use those blessings to help others."

Rock Steady Boxing has been selected for research studies on the impact of boxing and rigorous exercise on the progression of Parkinson's disease with the University of Indianapolis and Butler University. Rock Steady representatives are invited regularly to present at national and international conferences including the National Parkinson's Foundation Annual Conference and the Parkinson's Action Network Public Policy Forum.