By Diane M. Loeffler
Perhaps the most upbeat and invigorating place to be at 1 p.m. on Thursdays is the theater room in Sun Towers. As you walk in the room for this once a week class, instructor Eric Allen, assistant instructor Sandra Riano and volunteer Larry Stanford greet you by name. The room is set up with hula hoops, punching bags, and other equipment.
If you wonder if the program is helpful for individuals with Parkinson’s, just talk to the participants and their family and friends. Speaking about her husband, Jim, Sally Blakey says, “We recommend Rock Steady Boxing highly. After we have this class, he is so different when he gets home, happier and more himself.”
Robert Wachterman says that his wife, Gia, “notices a difference for a few days.” Christina Cieslik says her husband, Chic, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s seventeen years ago. Individuals diagnosed with Parkinson’s are encouraged to begin the program as soon as they are diagnosed. However, Chic is proof that the program also helps those who have had the disease for years.
Christina Cieslik says, “Chic has gained strength, ability and interest.” She enjoys coming to the class with her husband because, “Everybody is very friendly. We laugh with, not at each other. It is like a Parkinson’s family.”
Kings Point resident Annette Rawlinson says, “Before we moved to Sun City Center three years ago, Mikel shuffled and fell a lot. He has really improved. Our doctor back in Indiana was amazed. Mikel wishes they had this class three to four times a week.” Christina Cieslik says her husband would gladly come three times a week too.
Amy Slaney has been attending Rock Steady Boxing since June. She has Parkinson’s and says the class has really helped her, “I like it because it is challenging. It’s made for people like me and it’s challenging. It isn’t mamby pamby. I can tell I have improved. I can run now. Not very elegantly or very far, but I can run.”
Each class is different. This week’s class begins with a warm up of walking, stretching, and some more walking. Some of the exercisers jog part of the time. Next, the participants practice boxing moves as they bob, weave and duck. They balance on one foot. The instructor, assistant, volunteers and the ‘corner men,’ who are usually spouses, help them with skills if needed. Eric Allen says, “Some people aren’t as strong as others. Participants are helped when they cannot do something, not when they can but it is hard.” He and his assistants move around the room, helping, encouraging, cheering.
The exercisers hula hoop for a few minutes, walk while balancing a ball on a plate, and punch while loudly counting and moving their feet. They perform jump squats. Allen, Riano and Stanford encourage them, “Do what you can!”
Next, they do thirty second drills, stepping in and out of rope ladders placed on the floor, ball slams and rope exercises before stretching, and gathering in a circle for a final cheer. An hour and a half has passed. Riano says, “Rock steady boxing keeps on standing because all the participants are motivated to keep going all class long.” She is right. Now and then, one of the participants would stop for a minute or so, but then they all started exercising again.
Walking out at the end of class, they are all sweating, but they are also smiling and perhaps standing a little taller. They are fighting Parkinson’s, literally, and today was a victory for them.
Interested? Classes are available to anyone in the area who has Parkinson’s. Contact Eric Allen at 813-321-8755 or firstname.lastname@example.org for more information. You can also learn more about the program on-line at mentalhealthandaging.org. That page contains an article on the program and also a link to a video showing program participants in action.