BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - A group of Baton Rouge boxers is taking on a scary opponent – Parkinson's disease.
Rock Steady Boxing is a nonprofit with affiliates around the country. The Baton Rouge class was the first in Louisiana, and the program has since popped up in New Orleans, Slidell and Ruston. Others are in the works in Hammond and Shreveport.
"It's hand-eye coordination, agility, teaching them how to fall, how to get up and fall, because that's a big part of it. You lose your balance a lot (with Parkinson's)," coach Melissa Cantrell explained.
"I started with a tremor in my right hand and tried to ignore it, but eventually I had to address it," Rock Steady boxer Sally Palmer said. She's been in the class since it launched in May 2016.
Palmer's doctor told her that getting regular exercise is just as important as taking her daily medications. Studies have shown that rigorous, non-contact boxing can delay, reduce and even reverse the symptoms of Parkinson's.
"To see people come in that really didn't think they could do something anymore, and to see them accomplish that, it's fantastic," Palmer added.
The benefits are not just physical. The class doubles as a support group, helping fight the depression that often comes with the disease. It's something Cantrell experienced personally with her parents, and it's what motivated her to offer the class.
"You kind of start taking away everything that's important," she explained. "My mom likes to bake, she's a cook. My dad's yard work. They're both retired, and so you see those little things that they can't do anymore."
Rock Steady is about what they CAN do. Calisthenics are mixed in with the boxing for an hour of balanced exercise. Cantrell assesses each participant before they begin the class, and then reassesses each person every six months. A doctor's approval is recommended but not required.
"We have early-onset from late 30s all the way up – there's a lady I think she's in Indiana, she's in her 90s, so there's no age limit on this," Cantrell said. Anyone is welcome to come observe the class before signing up.
Rock Steady Boxing meets every Tuesday and Thursday from 11 a.m. – Noon at the Southside YMCA located at 8482 Perkins Rd. Call (225) 766-2991 for more information, or CLICK HERE.
Palmer also leads a Parkinson's support group that meets at 1 p.m. on the third Thursday of each month. Meetings are at the Bluebonnet branch of the EBRP Library.