Parkinson's patients discover therapy at Huntsville boxing gym

Updated: May. 30, 2017 at 11:05 PM CDT
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HUNTSVILLE, AL (WAFF) - A group in Huntsville is helping fight back against the Parkinson's disease - one punch at a time.

At first glance, Rock Steady Boxing looks and sounds just like any other work out class. However, these classes are anything but ordinary.

Rock Steady Boxing is aimed to help those who suffer from Parkinson's, a progressive nervous system disorder that causes deterioration of motor functions, balance and speech. Boxing has the ability to help keep those motor functions sharp.

"The exercise part of it is great, but it's unique because many of these adults have never boxed in their live,s so there is a lot of benefits in that but also the socialization because when you come here, it's not like you're going to physical therapy. You're going to hit something. It's cool to hit something," said Carolyn Rhodes.

Rhodes created the classes after being a part of a class in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. She knew there was a need Huntsville.

"We started with three boxers in June. By the end of June, we had six. By August, we had 30 and we're seeing the same stories over and over again by how much better the people felt. Their minds were sharper because they were getting out being active," she said.

The class hits home for Rhodes. Her husband, Jim, is battling the dreadful disease. Both credit his time behind the bag for improving his balance and daily motor skills.

"After I started boxing for several months, I didn't fall at all, so it got progressively better with the balance. I feel better about myself and my ability," said Jim Rhodes.

Success stories are all over the gym. 80-year-old Joane Lowery never dreamed of lacing up the gloves. Now a regular, she admits she would be sitting at home letting the disease control her. Instead, she's literally fighting back.

"Dr. Carr, my neurologist, insisted that I do this. And I thought I'm an old lady and there is no way in the world I am going to take up boxing at this point in life," said Lowery. "I really don't think I could function today without it."

So why does boxing, a violent sport, have the ability to help those battling one of life most violent diseases? It's simple.

"It helps the brain activity and that's where the issue is. It's in their dopamine levels and being able to help prolong the little bit of dopamine they do have," said Rock Steady Boxing coach Dallas Terrell.

While boxing is not a cure for Parkinson's, it is proving to be a life-saver when it comes to giving back their ability to remain active.

"When they come up to me and say they have gone from Velcro to back to laces, that's a big deal. I can button my shirts again. I can push the grocery cart with my wife when I go grocery shopping," Terrell said.

"A man and his wife danced again for the first time at a wedding in many years. He was not able to dance. He was ready for a nursing home. Now they're ready to go on a cruise," said Rhodes.

As of right now, there are nearly 70 boxers and 61 volunteers. The age group ranges from 53 to 68.

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