One punch at a time

Jennifer Parkinson was diagnosed with young-onset Parkinson’s disease at the age of 32. She was told she had 10 years before she would no longer be able to care for herself or her two small children, aged two and five at the time.

Faced with her daunting diagnosis, Parkinson heard about a program in Indiana called Rock Steady Boxing, the only boxing club in the country dedicated to fighting Parkinson’s disease through non-contact heavy bag boxing.

“I started working out with a trainer here. He just worked me really, really hard and I started non-contact boxing with him and after about a year my symptoms really changed and turned around, my tremor stopped, my muscle rigidity got better,” Parkinson said. “I was having freezing episodes daily where I couldn’t move at all and that got better. So then I wanted to start the program for other people.”

For someone fighting to control their muscle movement, heavy bag boxing might seem like an odd fit and an intense suggestion, but for those battling Parkinson’s disease it’s been proven to be one of the best treatments to combat symptoms, thanks to neurologists at Purdue University. 

Now, TITLE Boxing Club in Newbury Park is helping people fight back against Parkinson’s disease with their own Rock Steady Boxing affiliate program, started by Parkinson and general manager Lisa Oliver in February 2014.

“There’s no way I could ignore the fact that she was telling me that there were hundreds if not thousands of people in Ventura County who needed our help and we had the facility to be able to do it so we started that day,” Oliver said.

Eleven years after her diagnosis, Parkinson is now an assistant trainer at the club, helping other people with Parkinson’s along their journey.

According to Oliver, Rock Steady Boxing in Indiana worked closely with neurologists at Purdue University to discover how “non-contact, heavy bag boxing was medically proven to delay the onset of Parkinson’s symptoms, to decrease current symptoms, to reduce symptoms and in some cases even reverse specific symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.”

Parkinson’s disease affects nearly one million people in the United States, according to the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation’s website. Neurons in the brain are damaged or killed, inhibiting muscle control and movement. The progressive movement disorder worsens over time, as there is presently no cure, making it hard for patients to walk, talk, swallow and balance.

TITLE Boxing has seen incredible results from their program, improving the lives of almost 90 people living with Parkinson’s disease in Ventura County.

“We notice a big change in everyone who comes to the program, we’ve seen people come in with walkers who aren’t using them anymore. I know how much it’s helped me, but I had no idea how this was going to affect so many other people and how many people we have in our community that keep coming in,” Parkinson said.

According to Oliver the program addresses symptoms like rigidity, shuffling, freezing, loss of speech, not being able to swallow, confinement to a wheelchair or walker and loss of balance. It also addresses the mental side effects of living with Parkinson’s such as anxiety and depression.

Oliver said she has also seen “people going from wheelchairs to no longer using wheelchairs, walkers to no longer using walkers, people getting their voice back for the first time in years, people able to walk in and out of the club who used to need assistance and now they don’t, people getting their drivers licenses back which is such a huge factor when your independence is taken away.”

TITLE Boxing is also an active member of the Greater Conejo Valley Chamber of Commerce and has been for years. President and CEO, Jill Lederer, said she’s very excited for their upcoming event on April 30.

“We think that’s going to be outstanding, but we have just heard through various families in the community as well who are impacted by Parkinson’s, the difference that this program has made for their family members, in terms of balance, in terms of just being able to do things that they weren’t able to do before,” Lederer said.

The entire community is invited to come out and watch the PD Fighters (Parkinson’s Disease Fighters) demonstrate their program and hear stories of success on April 30. If you or anyone you know is affected by Parkinson’s disease, TITLE Boxing encourages you to come out and learn about the benefits of their program.

“Try it, if you know of anybody who is impacted by Parkinson’s go check out the program at TITLE Boxing, talk to Lisa [Oliver] about it, talk to Jennifer [Parkinson] about it and they’ll work with you to find out if its right for you,” Lederer said.

For more information and class schedules visit TITLE Boxing Club Newbury Park’s website www.newbury-park.titleboxingclub.com or call (805)-498-4822. PD Fighters’ classes are currently held three times a week.

Taylor Rowlands
Staff Writer
Published April 27th, 2016