Fighting back against Parkinson'sMay 30, 2023 01:04PM ● By April Fitzgerald
"I’m gonna be mean now!” Jan Blue’s sweet and encouraging voice rang out at Anytime Fitness in Delta. “One-minute wall sit!”
With little resistance, the 11 members of her Rock Steady Boxing class willingly complied—according to their varying abilities. Some members performed the exercise much like Blue—forming two right angles, one at the hips and one at the knees—and others participated from their chairs.
Volunteers Myrna Griffin and Nancy Eisenbud engaged while keenly aware of everyone around them, ready to provide support should anyone falter.
Blue’s exercise class is specially designed for people with Parkinson’s disease, an incurable brain disorder that causes tremors and muscle stiffness, slowing movements and impairing balance and coordination. The class incorporates everything from simple stretches and yoga to weight lifting—and of course, boxing.
Blue’s husband, Charlie Farrell, 69, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2013. The couple didn’t notice his symptoms at first until two events clued them in.
The first was at a high school reunion when someone had asked if Farrell had a stroke. Not long afterward, their grandson asked, “Papa, why are you so slow?”
Farrell eventually sought medical attention for a tremor in his tongue. Previously, he’d been a frequent speaker at church.
“He was an excellent speaker,” said Blue, “but he just can’t do that anymore.”
Farrell’s diagnosis altered his and Blue’s life together in many ways, but educating themselves about the disease helped them navigate its symptoms.
“I guess we spent a lot of time kind of mad at first. I wasn’t understanding why he didn’t want to do some of the things we used to do together,” said Blue. “We had to learn about Parkinson’s s in order to figure out how we were supposed to respond to this.”
They saw a segment about Rock Steady Boxing on “60 Minutes.” Then while wintering in California in 2017, they found a class in Palm Springs. It was a 200-mile round trip trek for them, but Blue noticed that Farrell got much stronger and his voice improved. They were so impressed that they traveled to the nonprofit’s headquarters in Indianapolis and became affiliates so they could host a class at home in Delta.
“We never wanted to be the coaches, but no one else was interested,” said Blue, so she and Farrell became certified coaches and began classes in May 2017.
USE IT, DON’T LOSE IT
Classes are held Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9:30-11 a.m. at Anytime Fitness in Delta. They’re free of charge, but participants have to become members of Anytime Fitness. Memberships are usually covered by SilverSneakers.
“There’s the old saying, ‘Use it or lose it.’ If you don’t use it, especially with Parkinson’s, you’re gonna lose it,” said Leonard Kubin, 69.
He added that the class addresses different issues, so participants don’t lose any of “it”.
According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, an estimated 1 million Americans have Parkinson’s disease. According to Rock Steady Boxing’s website, “Continuous, intensive training…emphasizing gross motor movement, balance, core strength, rhythm and hand-eye coordination can favorably impact range of motion, flexibility, posture, gait and activities of daily living.”
The variety of exercises can protect and potentially even heal the brain, slowing the progression of Parkinson’s.
“I know that if I didn’t commit to coming here, I would start going downhill faster,” said Wayne Austin, 75. “For me, it’s been a real blessing.”
Deann Thomas, another certified Rock Steady coach and a retired physical therapist, said she is pleased with the program’s ability to offer solutions for those with Parkinson’s.
“The class addresses so many things all at once in a non-clinical, fun atmosphere,” she said. “Participants are not guarded. It’s just a fun time. It’s really inspired me.”
Les Renfrow recently had a knee replacement, but he still participates in a modified capacity.
“It’s tiring, but good,” said Renfrow, 74.
JOIN A CLASS
Blue encourages anyone with Parkinson’s to come watch a class.
“It can be a very lonely disease,” she said. “That’s one of the reasons that I love class so much.”
Participants appreciate the physical benefits of the class, but they thrive on social connections.
“We joke a lot, and people share issues and problems,” said Doris McGuire, 72. “Not only do we get exercise which is really important, but the companionship and the camaraderie really help.”
Wayne Carlton, 79, said he didn’t want to go to class at first despite friends’ encouragement, but when he opened the door and saw the number of smiling faces, he felt at ease.
“Your life would be a lot lonelier if you didn’t have people like this,” he said.
Nick Hoppner, 79, added, “This is a critically important group of people to me. They always have a cheerful word.”
Volunteers are essential to the program according to Farrell. Volunteers help by timing exercises, handing out equipment and helping participants with mobility.
Eisenbud, who has volunteered for five years, said it helps her just as much as it helps participants.
“There’s teamwork going on here, which is very inspiring,” she said.
Rock Steady Boxing meets on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9:30-11 a.m. at Anytime Fitness, 300 Stafford Lane in Delta. For information about participating or volunteering, contact Blue at 210-415-4550. A signed physician release form must be returned prior to the first class.
There is also a class in Fruita. Contact Kara Griffith at 970-858-2502 for more information.
Parkinson’s Support Groups
1-2:30 p.m. | Last Mondays |