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Boxing Gym Tries to Punch Out Parkinson’s

A gym in Indianapolis is encouraging Parkinson's sufferers to take the fight to their disease.

  • Ann Rogers

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    Photo: Austen Williams

    Ann Rogers hits a punching bag at an early morning Saturday class at Rock Steady. Rogers started attending Rock Steady almost three years ago after getting to the point where she could hardly walk.

  • Boxer

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    Photo: Austen Williams

    A boxer at Rock Steady hits a punching bag that looks like a human body.

  • punching bag

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    Photo: Austen Williams

At first glance, Tom Timberlake, who’s tall, lean and athletic, seems like just another middle-aged guy trying to get in a morning workout.

“I guess you can say I was just coasting through life.”

But take a closer look, and you might notice something is a little different.

“I started getting little tremors in my thumb when I would walk,” Timberlake said..

Diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease at the age of 35, Timberlake is the youngest member in a boxing class at Indianapolis’ Rock Steady gym.

Rock Steady hosts seven ninety-minute classes each week for Parkinson’s patients to relieve some of their symptoms.

The classes are run by former professional boxer Kristy Fulmar and classes are designed around a standard boxing training regimen in which Kristy trains her boxers as if they were preparing for a real fight.

What’s different about these people is that their not in it for a fight per se, they’re not in it to battle against one person, these people are fighting for their lives and I see more tenacity from these people and more willingness to come to the gym and be on time and give 100 percent when they’re here, I see more of that than any fighter I’ve ever trained with,” Fulmar said.

And there may be evidence that boxing or similar exercise can be beneficial to Parkinson’s patients.

“There’s research out there that is showing that what we call complex movements can be more beneficial for a patient with Parkinson’s rather than simple movements said Lisa Morris, an occupational therapist at Columbus Regional Hospital. She works exclusively with Parkinson’s disease patients.

We’ve looked at the benefits, for example, of tai chi and different types of controlled movement activities where you’re really having to decide how to move a variety of parts of your body all at the same time and there’s a thinking component to it– you’re kind of having to strategize and to plan and it has shown that some of those more complex movements are more effective in working with Parkinson’s Disease and with the boxing, that would go right along with that research,” Morris said.

Spouses and friends also attend classes at Rock Steady to show support and offer help when needed.

“I’m a supporter of Ann Rogers and about three years ago she was getting to the point where she literally couldn’t walk, her left leg was totally dragging…”

That’s Scott Litherland, who co-owns a business with Rogers,

“…And she goes would you go with me to walk in and to just kind of help me get started and then I kind of got involved helping people and… here I am three years later,” Litherland said.

For Tom Timberlake and his wife, Christine, Rock Steady is more than just a boxing class—it is an opportunity for Tom to battle a disease that at first seemed like it might take over his life.

“My life is very good and very full and if it weren’t for this boxing program… I would say I would probably be laying on the couch doing nothing, feeling sorry for myself (those are tears of joy).” Tom said.

“It’s more like a marathon event that we are preparing for… Parkinson’s is not an end, it’s like a new beginning… it can be an opportunity,” Christine said.

“It’s not easy for a lot of us to do what we’re doing in here but you see the same people coming back everyday to do it and it shows you how much fight we all have, we’re not just going to lay down and let this disease take us over… we have all made the decision to take control of our lives and not let this disease take us over,” Tom said.

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