Parkinson’s disease weakens the body – causing trouble with walking, tremors, and other limitations — what should a person do? Should they be more careful and move less? Or should they put on boxing gloves? We think you might agree after reading this — they should put on the gloves and fight!

By Mary Ellen Bianco
Fitness guru Susan Jamison became passionate about bringing the Rock Steady Boxing program to Southern Indiana to help people fight the limitations of Parkinson’s disease. And her persistence paid off.  She now leads 90-minute workouts beginning with warm-up stretches and balance work, followed by a challenging circuit that includes squats, sparring, and a stationary bike. Sounds tough for anyone — but these participants have Parkinson’s.

Susan is humbled by the commitment of the group. “They have the desire to do whatever it takes to make their life better,” Susan says. “They don’t miss a class—they’re the hardest working people in the gym.”

Pat Cain and Maxine (Max) Miller are at different stages of Parkinson’s, a degenerative neurological disease. Their determination to fight back brings them to the gym three days a week. Since starting the program on May 9 they are seeing results quickly. “Within a matter of weeks, they’re stronger,” says Susan Jamison.

The Rock Steady Boxing group gathers at Anytime Fitness in Floyds Knobs for their workout session. The group includes people with Parkinson’s and their “cornerman” who may be a spouse, friend, grandchild or someone supporting them in the workout. Photos by Patti Hartog

Last November when Susan saw a CBS News Sunday Morning segment on how Rock Steady was helping reporter Leslie Stahl’s husband, she knew that she wanted to be trained to offer it to the community. With the support of the Anytime Fitness gym owners Steve and Stephanie Gilland, Susan and Steve attended a training camp at the Rock Steady gym in Indianapolis. The program, which includes intense and high energy boxing workouts, was founded in 2006 by Scott C. Newman, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s at age 40.

 Linda Mand boxes with Susan. 
Linda jokes with Susan about feeling worn out during their session. 

Besides the coaches for the group, all the participants work out with their “corner men” partners. Pat corner man is her husband Jim. As Pat walks slowly behind a weighted sled, Pat’s husband, Jim, encourages her to finish pushing it.

Pat builds her strength as she pushes a sled. Her husband Jim and
Anytime Fitness owner Steve Gilland encourage her. 

Pat, age 75, shuffled her feet when she walked, had tremors, and was unable to write before being diagnosed in 2006. She retired as a secretary when the tremors in her arms got worse and no one could read her handwriting. One of Pat’s biggest challenges is being unable to drive. “I was used to going anywhere that I wanted,” Pat says. “In 2012 I stepped out of bed and realized that my legs didn’t work. That was the last time I drove. I might have been risking the lives of others.”

Pat started Rock Steady in June. “I love it,” she says. “Jim enjoys it, and he knows that I need it.” Pat uses a walker regularly and she already sees an improvement in how she moves. She worries about falling and Jim asks her to use her electric scooter more often. Although the exercises are really hard, Susan told Pat that she wasn’t going to go easy on her. “I can’t run or jump rope, but Susan is so positive that she said I will be doing both,” Pat says. “She is an excellent teacher — kind and caring.”

Max Miller is doing partner sit-ups with her cornerman Judy. 

Max Miller works out with her friend Judy serving as her “corner man.” They laugh as they sit on balance balls doing leg lifts, which are affectionately called Rockette kicks. Max, age 69, was diagnosed late last year. After recovering from surgery on her heel, Max noticed that she was shuffling her feet, had no energy, and moved slowly. One day she tried to hop and wasn’t able to. “Our shower has about a four-inch lip to step over, and I couldn’t do it,” she says. Her father had Parkinson’s, but she hadn’t noticed the symptoms in herself. “I didn’t know what I was getting into,” Max says. “I started medication for Parkinson’s and did physical therapy every week for six weeks.” Her daughter-in-law Susan Miller helped her find a neurologist at the Cressman Parkinson’s Center in Louisville and organized a chart for Max to keep track of her daily medications.

Since joining the first Rock Steady session, Max hasn’t missed a class. “I just do it. It keeps us where we are and helps us to not get any worse,” she says. “We feel that God has brought us all together.” Getting out of a recliner at home had been so difficult that she told (her husband) Norman she needed another one. “The past couple of weeks I can get out. It has to be that my mind is connecting,” she says. Max picks up her feet more easily when she walks and does yard work and chores and feels alert for longer periods. “If I hadn’t gone with the classes I don’t know where I’d be today,” she says.

The group, which is extremely close, closes their workout session with a chant. “We feel that God has brought us together,” says Max.

You can contact Anytime Fitness at 812.923.2348. Are you caring for someone who has a debilitating disease? How are you helping your loved one through the situation? Do you know of programs that can help people?