People knocking out Parkinson's with the help of a boxing class

Forest Hill class hopes to expand to Annapolis
Posted at 10:53 AM, Nov 10, 2016
and last updated 2016-11-15 19:13:43-05

It's a disease that takes a grip on your life and slowly drains your freedom.

"Our head feels like a fuzz ball... and we can tell ourselves to move our legs but our legs don't move. Or we go to pick up a cup of coffee and it spills," Linda Nicodemus said about living with Parkinson's Disease.

She came to terms three years ago after a doctor's diagnosis, and is still fighting. Doctors describe Parkinson's as a neurological disorder, that prevents neurons from talking to one another to create movement.

It may start as a tremor in one hand, but it progresses to the rest of the body, causing slow reaction, balance problems and stiffness in the trunk of the body, affecting a person's ability to talk and walk.

Bob Havener first learned he had the disease in 2011. He had a gym membership at Forrest Hill Health and Fitness, trying to stay in shape after a double knee replacement, and he got a piece of mail from his brother that would change his life.

His brother was hiking the Appalachian Trail and saw an article that said boxing could fight Parkinson's, literally.

"I brought a bag into Dennis, said Dennis can you hang this for me so I can start Rock Steady? And Dennis said let's get more people involved with it, so that's what I did," Havener said.

Dennis Coady, the owner of the gym attended a Harford County Parkinson's meeting soon after and found the need for a boxing class was overwhelming.

"Debbie and Tyler, my trainers, they both volunteered to do it," Coady said the trainers volunteered their time to get certified in Rock Steady and learn about the disease.

The first boxing bag went up last Fall and the preliminary class was called "Step Into the Ring." The instructors were certified in September of 2016 and updated the class to "Rock Steady."

Trainer Debbie Umbarger, a mother and elementary school teacher, says this is the most fulfilling part of her life, "this has been the one that has given back to me the most as far as how it feels when we walk away each week."

The class started out with 3-5 people and grew to a couple dozen.

"It betters the quality of life today, versus possibly down the road," Trainer Tyler Maguire said.

 Maguire has seen the way Parkinson's affects loved ones. His mother's best friend has been fighting the disease for 25 years. She's past the point of getting help from the boxing class, and now he sees how it takes a network of friends and family working together to care for that person.

When you walk into the hour long boxing class on a Tuesday or Thursday, you see a family, both literally and figuratively.

In the crowd of talking boxers is Tina Cartwright. Her father attends the class and has had Parkinson's for seven years.

"He lost the zest for life," Cartwright said he used a walker and became depressed, not wanting to get out of bed. They visited a psychologist, neurologist and several other doctors who had no solution.

When she heard about the Rock Steady boxing class, she signed him up and started seeing an immediate improvement. 

"This seems to have been the key for him. He gets up in the morning, he's excited. He's interacting in life. I mean it's a blessing, I can't tell you," she said.

Now her father carries a cane and will put it down for class.

The class includes people of all different ages and backgrounds working through different levels of Parkinson's, some chaperoned by their family members.

Havener is doing well, able to have normal conversation and perform daily activities. he sees the need for Rock Steady growing, and hopes to start another class in Annapolis.

Cartwright is hoping to continue spreading the word, to help those struggling with the disease.

Download the ABC2 News app for the iPhone, Kindle and Android.