There are many unknowns associated with the neurodegenerative disorder Parkinson's disease, or PD. However, one thing is widely agreed upon: Physical activity and exercise can dramatically improve the lives of those fighting Parkinson's.

The Rock Steady Boxing program offers men and women with PD a support group that really packs a punch. The boxers and their corner-people (friends and family) take to Bfit & Well gym in Spenard twice a week, to engage in non-contact boxing aimed at delaying the progression of PD symptoms.

"Even if you don't like the exercise, you're going to feel real good when you're done," explained 68-year-old Willy Van Hemert.

Van Hemert was diagnosed with Parkinson's nine years ago. Over time, he developed bad body tremors and shakes, while becoming more rigid. Van Hemert decided to try Rock Steady Boxing with the support of his wife Rose after losing the ability to participate in aerobics.

"Some of my aerobic improvements have come about because of this class," said Van Hemert. "I used to take aerobics and when I was diagnosed with Parkinson's, I kind of dropped that, but (Rock Steady Boxing) has helped me to pick it up again."

Physical progression is only one benefit of the local boxing club; it also acts as a support group.

"The best part about (Rock Steady Boxing) is the people. You meet a lot of friends. We have a camaraderie with a group of Parkinson's people... we call them 'Parkies,'" joked Van Hemert.

Rock Steady Boxing was founded in 2006, when a 39-year-old Indianapolis district attorney discovered he had PD. When discussing his diagnosis with a friend who trained boxers, the two decided to try using it as a way to improve his sense of efficacy and self-worth. Over a decade later, the program has affiliates all over the United States.

Bfit & Well personal trainer Lucas Thein is Rock Steady certified. He acts as coach, motivator, and friend to those who come into his gym to put on the gloves.

"Parkinson's attacks an area of your brain that makes dopamine," explained Thein. "Dopamine is necessary for movement, clear and exact movement. The interesting thing about hard exercise is that it improves dopamine sensitivity."

Thein says the program in Anchorage started in April. He's already seeing progress in some of his boxers.

"They are reporting to us (that) they are lowering their medications or coming off certain (medications)," said Thein. "You can see their motor skills are improved."

"It's been beneficial," Van Hemert agrees. "I'm trying to get my tremors to go down, but that will probably take a while for those to calm down."

Rock Steady Boxing instills hope and positivity while brave men, women, and their families, stare down a debilitating disease.

"It's a struggle," said Thein. "This is a disease, so far, there is no cure for. (PD is) slowly getting worse, even with the boxing program. Someone is still going to have Parkinson's progressing, but they have hope because they can see improvements in their daily life."

Rock Steady Boxing meets midday twice a week at the Bfit & Well gym in Spenard. Gym owner Bonnie Murphy is looking into evening classes on Monday and Thursday nights if interest grows.

For more information on the program or on how to be a volunteer, contact Bonnie at 907-229-7652.

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