Peper col

From the parking lot of a West Ashley strip mall store front, there are distinct sounds that cause a slight pause and a curious glance. The sign above says Grit Box Fitness. The sound emanating from the open door includes rope skipping, the thud of punches striking a heavy bag and music from the 1960s. What’s happening in there?

As I stick my head inside, I quickly realize there’s an exercise class in progress, but not just any group of people in shorts, T-shirts and tennis shoes. It’s some form of boxing workout, but again, there’s something different going on.

There are almost 30 people in the class. The youngest is 55, the oldest is 80. Male and female, they are all there because they have Parkinson’s disease. Their shared goal is to use boxing gloves to knock out this disease that has no cure.

Programs such as this are helping Parkinson patients all across the world. It affects 7 to 10 million people and this program called Rock Steady is helping people in 150 gyms around the United States.

These people are essentially fighting back by regaining their strength and flexibility that this disease progressively captures.

Instructor, Jess Arenas, enthusiastically starts the class with some warm-up exercises including deep squats, butt-kicks and jumping jacks.

Dorene Erasmus, 62, says, “Every muscle in my body hurts when I’m done, but I can’t wait to get back.”

Fighting a common opponent

This class works out four days a week for its hour-long session. Parkinson’s is a chronic and progressive movement disorder. The symptoms include tremors, slowness of movement, muscle rigidity or stiffness.

Billy Smith, 63, ambles over to me during a break to say, “A year ago, I could hardly roll over in bed. This works, I’ve doubled my mobility.”

Charles Bauman, 73, is quick to add, “I’ve got a lot more control of my body.”

It’s inspiring to watch these folks attack the various exercises with all the fight and determination they can muster. If you’re not careful, you might get sucker-punched by your emotions.

These are your next door neighbors, your church members, your coaches, teachers and grocery store clerks who are all punching and pounding with purpose.

Beth Plant, 55, says, “Before I came here, I didn’t know anybody else with Parkinson’s. I get strength knowing we’re all battling it together.”

In this corner

This program is primarily therapy for a disease with no cure. What you have to admire about these folks is that they’re not waiting for a magic cure or a medical breakthrough. They’re putting on their gloves and punching Parkinson’s right in its ugly nose.

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As the circuit training progresses, instructor Jess barks-out “Let’s get back to it.” She turns-up the next song on the workout playlist and it coincidentally is James Brown’s “I Feel Good.”

As the sweat starts to soak T-shirts and bead up on each brow, they move to the next exercise. Sweatin’ to the oldies takes on a totally different meaning in this context.

Simple matters of improved balance and a steady walking gait mean everything to these folks.

David Bunting, 61, admits that when he walked into this class five months ago, “I thought it would be a piece of cake, but these people were dancing rings around me.”

Jay Phillips, who started with the class three years ago, dutifully lifts a weight with his trembling right hand. “I still have areas that need work,” the 73-year-old confesses. “But this helps,” he says. “Three years ago, I couldn’t do 10 push-ups. Now, I can do 30.”

The speed bag, medicine balls, jump ropes and boxing gloves are all tools that motivate and help these folks regain a certain quality of life.

But to a person, it’s not the equipment in this gym that makes it all work — it’s the people. It’s knowing you’re not alone in this fight and there are others also swinging-away right along side of you. That’s powerful medicine.

Reach Warren at peperwarren@gmail.com

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