BY: CAROLINE ROLF
Linda Porter, a 72-year-old grandmother, shows up at the gym to continue her training. She punches the bag with determination and precision, switching left to right, building her stamina and strength. Porter is training for a very important fight, a fight she can’t win but sure as hell won’t surrender to. Linda, along with hundreds of other Americans, comes to Rock Steady Boxing to fight against Parkinson’s disease.
Rock Steady Boxing is a workout program specially designed for people with the disease. Scott Newman founded the gym in Indianapolis in 2006, after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s at age 40 and finding that working with a personal boxing coach helped his symptoms.
Parkinson’s disease is a degenerative memory disorder that causes deterioration of motor skills, sensory function, balance and speech. The disease is caused by genetic and environmental factors resulting in a breakdown of neurons (the ones responsible for producing the chemical dopamine). The brain activity changes and causes motor and non-motor symptoms like balance, muscle rigidly and mood swings. The Parkinson’s Society estimates there are over 100,000 Canadians living with this degenerative disease for which there is no cure. Rock Steady’s exercises specifically target the range of Parkinson’s symptoms.
Rock Steady has spread to over 100 locations in the U.S. and the first program came to Canada in April, launching at Undisputed, a mixed martial arts gym in the east end of Toronto. A membership costs $80 for three classes per week and offers a supportive environment that the medical system does not always provide. The benefits of intense exercise like boxing have been shown to reduce the impact of Parkinson’s symptoms. Accompanying the facilities is a set of passionate trainers that deliver tough love in a team-based environment for boxers of any fitness level.
Presently, Rock Steady in Toronto is raising money to start new programs in the west end that would enable more than 100 eager Parkinson’s patients get off the waiting list and begin their fight.