At first glance, it looks like any other boxing class. But look closer and you notice these aren’t your average fighters. This group of men and women ranges in age from early 40s to 80.
They have more in common than fierce determination and a passion for fitness. Each of the 18 people suffers from Parkinson’s disease. But you wouldn’t know it from how Coach John Miller is pushing them.
Miller is a certified trainer in the Rock Steady Boxing program out of Title Boxing Club in Carlsbad. The program originated in Indianapolis 10 years ago when Scott Newman discovered improvements in his Parkinson’s symptoms after a boxing workout. He experienced extreme benefits to his mobility, balance, hand-eye coordination and agility. Intrigued, he hired a former boxer to head the program, which now has over 300 affiliates.
“It takes the benefits of boxing and applies it to the disease,” Miller said. “What Parkinson’s takes away, Rock Steady fights to bring back. It’s specifically designed around training like a boxer as well as functional movements for the real world.”
Parkinson’s is a chronic, degenerative neurological disease. Symptoms include tremors, instability and rigidity. Studies show engaging in forced, or coached, intense exercise has the greatest results in combatting symptoms. “Boxing is one of the most demanding and intense forms of exercise,” Miller said. “It’s the perfect marriage to fight against Parkinson’s.”
At Title Boxing Club in Carlsbad fighters test their bodies in a safe, fun, judgment-free setting, fostering opportunities for success and confidence boosting. “More than teaching technique and holding planks, my goal is to create an environment to take risks,” Miller said. “When people get diagnosed, they hear a lot about what they can’t do. We help them figure out what they can do. It’s a place to experiment and learn with opportunities to fall and get back up.”
And fall they do. One of the biggest risks with Parkinson’s is falling, which increases as mobility becomes more limited. Rock Steady Boxing Carlsbad teaches techniques for falling, as well as getting down and up off the ground.
“The mental and emotional components to Parkinson’s can be far greater than the physical ones,” Miller said. “This program is a community, a family. You don’t have to explain yourself here. Parkinson’s informs me of what you’re going through, it doesn’t define who you are.”
Like any relationship, trust and connection are key between Miller and his fighters. “I spend about five hours getting to know each fighter before they join,” he said. “I learn where they are health-wise, but more importantly, I want to make sure it’s a good fit. What we do here isn’t easy. What they’re going through is even harder. But we offer more than exercise. It’s hope. An opportunity to improve their quality of life. We’re teaching them to fight back.”
The program is a perfect fit for Wayne Label. He was diagnosed eight years ago, and doesn’t suffer as severely as some of his fellow fighters. The 73-year-old plays tennis daily in addition to twice weekly Rock Steady Boxing workouts he began just three months ago. “John is the reason we’re here,” Label said of his trainer. “His enthusiasm, the way he pushes us. Some programs water it down. But he pushes us to the limit.”
Before joining Rock Steady Boxing Carlsbad, Label struggled with confidence and hesitated to talk about his disease. Today, he’s on the board of directors for the Parkinson’s Association San Diego chapter, which is currently in danger. He’s urging everyone to participate June 11 in a fundraiser walk at Liberty Station.
“I want to breathe life back into the Parkinson’s Association,” he said, a testament to the work he’s done with Rock Steady Boxing Carlsbad. “The ability to talk about it is just one benefit, it’s also the group we have. We are like family. We have outside events and social activities.”
Label isn’t the only fighter who’s experienced big changes. “We have an 80-year-old in the class who first came in with a walker and a caretaker,” he said. “Last week, he was doing squats and walked out by himself.” Two others hadn’t left their houses in months due to depression. “Now they can’t wait to get to the club, they join us at parties,” he said.
Miller invites anyone with Parkinson’s looking to improve their overall quality of life to email him about Rock Steady Boxing Carlsbad at Carlsbad@rsbaffiliate.com. Title Boxing Club is at 3247 Camino De Los Coches. Call (760) 633-4822 or visit carlsbad.rsbaffiliate.com/.
This article is sponsored content.