My wife and I went to a barbeque last weekend. Admission was free. There was a silent and a regular auction to raise money. We dined on burgers, hot dogs, and Indiana corn on the cob. The event was typical of many that Sue and I had attended over the years.
What made this event special were the attendees. Many had Parkinson’s disease. They were all ages. Some had a hard time walking and/or speaking. Others were less affected. All of the attendees had a common story, Rock Steady Boxing made a significant positive impact in their lives.
Rock Steady was founded by Scott Newman, Vince Perez and Kristy Follmer. (see Scott’s original story below) Scott discovered he had Parkinson’s disease during his second term as elected prosecutor of Marion County (Indianapolis) Indiana. A few years ago Vince began working out with Scott and taught him to box. Over time Scott’s physical and mental condition improved. So much so that Scott was able to raise money for and start Strand Analytical Laboratory. I met Scott through Strand. My wife Sue had met Kristy through Rock Steady.
Rock Steady Boxing Foundation was founded to give people with Parkinson’s disease hope. This non-profit organization offers a variety of classes designed to motivate and empower members through rigorous, but non-competitive, boxing lessons. The organization offers free classes to those who have Parkinson’s disease. They raise money by offering classes for Executives and Women and by accepting donations.
This brings me back to last Saturday and our table conversation over hamburgers. A gentleman at our table had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s for about a year. He found out about Rock Steady in March and was now attending the program 4 times a week. “It saved my life” he told me. “I could only jump rope 3 reps when I started. I had given up golf, a sport I love. Now I’m jumping rope 40 at a time and I’m playing golf again.” We talked to numerous individuals and their spouses with the same story. They heard about Rock Steady and now they were regulars. Exercise, a compassionate staff, and friendship with the other boxers and made their lives a bit easier.
I don’t know if it is the boxing, the exercise, the movement, or the interest that members of the group had for each other that is so overwhelming and is helping to delay the devastating effects of Parkinson’s disease. Perhaps it is a combination of all of these. I’m not a doctor but it is easy to see that Scott, Kristy, Vince and the members of Rock Steady are on to something very powerful and very good.
Until next time – All the best!
Kristy posted an introductiory video on YouTube
In Scott’s own words, an article from the Indianapolis Star
July 18, 2007
My view: Scott C. Newman
Battling disease, competition with a one-two punch
At the airport on the way to the “Desert Showdown” (World Amateur Boxing Championships in Coachella, Calif.), it hits home with me that my friend could get seriously hurt. And there I’ll be, paralyzed next to an empty corner stool, a towel clutched in my hand. Sparring is one thing, but every competitor bounds into the ring intent upon killing the other guy. They will want to finish my friend, sure enough. He’s not from around here. They don’t know him; haven’t even heard of him.
My friend is Vincent Perez, and his opponent won’t know or care about what I’m about to tell you. But it began when I was ready to throw in the towel about four years ago, giving in to the Parkinson’s disease that was pummeling me into a shadow of my former self. I had hit the canvass. I took to my bed and my cringing self-pity, and I felt sure that my Creator was calling the count over my increasingly lifeless body. I couldn’t sign my name. I couldn’t type, as I am doing now.
Vincent Perez — at the time just a favorite acquaintance and fellow self-absorbed malcontent — stepped forward out of nowhere and said, “I am your cornerman and your trainer. Now get up!”
Vince taught me how to box. He worked me mercilessly five and six days a week, until my body convinced my damaged dopamine-producing brain cells that we could fight back. And fight back we did, with Vince crowning me with abuse, ridicule and occasional faint praise. One of his rare compliments came six months into our slapped-together rehabilitation program. “I could take you into a real boxing gym now, and not be embarrassed to be seen with you.”
Prodded by the sheer excitement of not being a disgrace to boxing, we began to plan a boxing facility where I could continue to develop my nearly adequate skills largely in private. Privacy helped because, still affected by Parkinson’s, I was prone to demoralizing “freeze-ups,” when I would suddenly stand transfixed, unable to recall the muscle memory to pound the heavy bag as I had been doing only moments earlier.
We kept at it, and eventually (with enormous help from a great friend) built something portentously known as “Rock Steady Boxing” on Indy’s Eastside.
An amazing thing was happening. I was getting better. Physically stronger, quicker, more flexible, more alert, more confident, able to sign my name and type on a computer. All this, without adding a single microgram of the side-effect-ridden medications for Parkinson’s. With every punch, I imagined myself beating my disease into some kind of submission. It’s a battle I’ll lose eventually but — thanks to Rock Steady Boxing — it’s going to take a lot longer to count me out.
Rock Steady Boxing last fall opened its doors, free of charge, to all those with Parkinson’s who can climb into our full-scale boxing ring. Vince and our other principal boxing trainer — former world second-ranked boxer Kristina Rose Follmar — aren’t always “nice.” We give our trainees the same respect that Vince gave me — high hopes, constant challenge, a healthy dose of tough talk, but in a jauntily supportive atmosphere. Here, no one is ashamed of his or her symptoms, and all share a commitment to fighting their way off the ropes and “finishing strong,” in life as in each round of a boxing match.
Our boxing-based fitness program has already begun to work small miracles for our fighters, who now number in the dozens. Small victories fill us with joy. Like Bill, who stands up so much straighter now. Or Ron, who like many Parkinson’s patients doesn’t talk much. When I called out a week ago, “See you next time, Ron,” he shot back, in full voice, “You GOT it!”
I still can’t lay a glove on Vince Perez, which brings me back to this airplane flight, where my hands fly over the keyboard on my way to Coachella. There, roles will be reversed, and Kristy Rose and I will work the corner for one Vincent Perez, Rock Steady Boxing’s first sponsored competitive fighter. At age 40, at 138 pounds and in fighting trim, Vince will return to the ring for the first time since his successes 15 years ago as a Golden Gloves champ.
There won’t be enough room in the corner of a regulation boxing ring to fit all the people back home who are standing behind Vince. But whether Vince wins or loses, the fighters gathered to compete at a casino in the desert will know, just like old Parkinson’s, that they were in a fight.