Puyallup Herald

Parkinson’s patients don’t back down from the fight at new boxing therapy class

Jim Geise never thought he’d get into boxing — especially not at 77 years old.

That was before the Puyallup-area resident and retired school teacher was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in October. Before getting on the floor to play with his 8-month-old grandson was proving to be too difficult.

His doctor suggested he contact Rock Steady Boxing, a non-contact boxing exercise therapy group that started offering classes in the Puyallup area for the first time this month. Classes also are available in Tacoma.

Geise was surprised.

“It was hard to believe — boxing is completely opposite of Parkinson’s,” said Geise in an interview with The Puyallup Herald before a boxing session Feb. 22.

Parkinson’s Disease is a neurodegenerative disorder that causes tremors, stiffness in limbs, slowness of movement and gait and balance problems. It also can cause non-motor symptoms, including anxiety, depression and loss of voice control, according to the National Parkinson’s Foundation. Symptoms range depending on the person, but generally develop slowly over the years. An estimated 60,000 people are diagnosed each year.

Learning that exercise plays a vital role for the mobility of Parkinson’s patients, Geise and his wife, Gentry, decided to attend a Rock Steady Boxing class.

“We went with an open mind but not really knowing what we were getting into,” Gentry Geise said.

Mike Sellars, a manager and coach with Rock Steady Boxing, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s two years ago and helped grow the nonprofit in the South Sound. The average age of Rock Steady Boxing participants is in the mid-70s.

“Our goal is to reduce, reverse or delay the symptoms of Parkinson’s,” Sellars said.

Boxing moves the body in all planes of motion in a high-energy environment, Sellars said. Patients, called “fighters” at Rock Steady Boxing, practice balance, flexibility, core strength, speed and rhythm in the 90-minute workouts.

Fighters start each session with warmups, then move to intervals of punching styles using punching bags, with brief running in between.

Since the effects of Parkinson’s can move past the physical, so does Rock Steady Boxing. During sessions, boxers call out each other’s names to test memory and exercise vocal control. All Rocky Steady Boxing locations require a padded mat, meant to relieve boxers from the anxiety of falling on a hard surface.

Spouses of fighters are welcome to stay and watch. Gentry Geise said spouses have developed their own support system, sitting on the sidelines.

“I’ve learned a lot from talking to people,” she said.

The change for Geise, who once had trouble bending his elbow or even scratching his head, was immediate. After every session, his tremors subside for a day or two, and he’s far more active.

Fellow fighter Linda Boyd said she feels the same way — exhausted but energized. She recommends other Parkinson’s patients get active.

“The best thing they can do for themselves is exercise, all through their life,” she said.

There are more than 36,000 Rock Steady Boxing participants nationwide, with more than 750 locations offering classes. Starting in March, classes will be available in Olympia.

Rock Steady Boxing

When: Mondays and Fridays, 10 to 11:30 a.m.

Where: 9717 160th St. E., Puyallup

Cost: $12 per session

More information: 425-830-4472, puyallup.rsbaffiliate.com