As a photographer that mostly shoots weddings and families, the winter months tend to get a little slow. I find myself in search of an interesting subject to photograph in the hopes of staying busy and inspired.
So when I saw that a friend on Facebook was using boxing as a physical therapy tool for people battling Parkinson’s Disease , I immediately thought, “I’ve got to photograph that!”
Luckily Cheryl (the Facebook friend) was kind enough to let me do just that. I had the privilege of spending an afternoon with her and a group of patients at the Rock Steady Boxing Program at Champions Gym in Rockville.
As a Occupational Therapist Cheryl had experience working with Parkinson’s patients. She had also been taking boxing lessons for years as a way to stay in shape. So when she read a study from the University of Indianapolis showing that a new boxing program called “Rock Steady” was helping Parkinson’s patients maintain the physical abilities and improve their quality of life, she wanted to be involved.
She ended up going to Indianapolis so she could learn about Rick Steady first hand and begin coaching classes back here in Maryland. She’s been helping people diagnosed with Parkinson’s ever since.
Kent, 74 is a frequent attendee of the class. He was diagnosed with Parkinson’s a few years ago. He says the first thing he did was buy a “Parkinson’s Disease for Dummies” book. As he read through the pages he started making a list of all the symptoms listed and put a check mark next to each symptom he had.
“The list is about 36 symptoms long and I’ve got a check next to about half of them so far. It can be overwhelming but I don’t want to be in denial. I want to keep off the effects of the disease as much as I can. That’s why I do the boxing.”
He says that boxing has helped tremendously with his balance, reflexes and coordination, which is what concerns him the most.
“The disease doesn’t kill you, what kills you are the other issues and falling down is a big one. When you have [Parkinson’s] and you fall and break a hip you end up in a hospital and you might never make it out. So falling is a big danger. And the boxing helps with that.”
I'm not someone that uses the word 'inspirational' very lightly but spending a couple hours watching the hard work being done by the class was just that. What programs like Rock Steady can do for participants is not only help in the obvious physical ways with things like motor skills, but what they also provide is hope.
After talking with everyone involved with the class I came away feeling that the mental aspect of boxing does just as much good as the physical benefits. Parkinson's might be a degenerative disease with no cure but being in the gym and working hard gives them a sense of power back. They're not just taking a passive role, they're throwing punches and literally 'fighting back' against their disease.
Thanks to Rock Steady Boxing for the great service they're providing. Thanks to Cheryl and Faviola for all their hard work. And thanks to the members of the class for allowing me to be there and share their story!