HELENA, Mont. — The late great Muhammad Ali went from a fast-talking fireball of a boxer to a stiff, shaky man who could hardly speak at the young age of 43. He was diagnosed with Parkinson’s, and spent the rest of his life nearly immobilized by the disease.
At the time, his doctors speculated that his Parkinson’s was likely spurred by 30 years of head trauma suffered in boxing.
So it’s all the more fitting that a growing group of Helenans have found relief from the debilitating neurological disease by stepping into the ring.
Admittedly, there is no actual ring at Rock Steady Boxing, no cheering crowds, fat lips or black eyes. Instead, with the help of a few cornermen, boxing-themed workouts are led by coaches Jennifer Buszka and Sue Bristow.
“Every workout is a new set of pain,” cornerman Greg Olson, 62, chuckled.
Gathered around the whiteboard, Bristow yells out the day’s workout regimen, drawing sarcastic groans from the group. Three days a week, the group convenes at the martial arts gym for jumping rope, pushups and punching bag drills.
Stephen Granzow, 72, served in the Army, performed in rodeos, coached gymnastics and owned a business. But when he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s almost a decade ago, all that “went to the pot.”
Granzow’s wife Melinda, whom he lovingly calls his corner chick, said he was in a bad place before he found Rock Steady and became active again.
“I really went to nothing, just sitting around the house,” Granzow said. “It’s really changed everything. Now my neurologist only needs to see me once a year.”
Buszka and Bristow were on a run together about two years ago when Buszka mentioned that her husband had Parkinson’s. A few days later, Bristow saw a Sunday morning news segment on an Indiana-based boxing class for people with the degenerative disease.
A few months later, the two flew to Indianapolis for training and became certified affiliates. They started up classes last September, and the program has been growing since.
“This kind of high-intensity interval training is actually neuroprotective,” Buszka said. “It staves off the effects of Parkinson’s, and it is clear to us that it can even reverse some of the muscular deterioration that occurs from losing motivation to stay active.”
Varying the regimen from day to day not only keeps people interested, but also holds the key to having a workout your body responds to, Buszka said. Even with classes three times a week, she said they have enough variety for four months of fresh exercises.
Between pushups and punching bags, participants hone their fine motor skills by placing washers onto stakes or using chopsticks to put things into a basket.
Of course, everyone works at different speeds and ability levels, but one thing all the participants have in common is their struggle with Parkinson’s.
“I think the camaraderie that people find here helps them just as much as the workout,” Bristow said. “Parkinson’s can be really isolating, but we really foster community building. People can get out here and see we are all fighting against the same thing.”
One boxer’s shirt summed up the attitude of everyone at the class.
“We only can’t if we don’t.”
Information from: Independent Record, http://www.helenair.com