Apr. 8—OLD FORGE — Parkinson's Disease can make life narrow, said Ed Stankus, taking a break during a class at Rock Steady Boxing Wednesday.
As the disease progresses, physical abilities diminish. Voices soften. Handwriting changes.
But a special gym in Old Forge helps fight the incurable disease. "It forces us to do big things," said Stankus, of Kingston.
Stankus, who was diagnosed with the disease 18 months ago, is one of 75 members of the Parkinson's-only gym on Maxson Drive in the borough.
Rock Steady Boxing Northeast PA owner and trainer, Kathy Reap, opened the gym in Lackawanna County in 2016, one year after her husband, John, was diagnosed with the progressive neurological disorder.
Now, with locations in Old Forge and at RiverTop Wellness on River Street in Tunkhannock, the boxing program helps people of all ages and abilities with Parkinson's, said Reap. She, along with the gym's coaches, train members using a non-contact, boxing-based curriculum.
Members of the gyms range from 45 to 86 years old. Some use walkers or wheelchairs. Others bring a "corner man," a family member or friend, to assist them through the exercises.
Boxers need good hand-eye coordination and good balance, two skills Parkinson's affects. Gym members also work on their thinking cognition by calling out different boxing combinations, Reap said. Members are encouraged to shout during their workouts, since Parkinson's causes voices to diminish.
"Parkinson's is really a brain disease," she said. "There's a lot of non-motor symptoms."
April is Parkinson's Awareness Month and Rock Steady Boxing Northeast PA is hosting a virtual Pushups for Parkinson's fundraiser to support the Parkinson's Foundation, Parkinson's research and national and local Parkinson's programs. Throughout April, they are encouraging everyone to do 10 push ups, donate $10 and then ask 10 friends, family or community members to do the same thing.
Reap temporarily closed her gym twice last year because of the pandemic and instead taught shadow boxing classes over Zoom.
"With the pandemic, it was very hard on people with Parkinson's ... social isolation plus being more sedentary, that's not good for their disease," Reap said. "So we'll get the mushroom effect with lots of people participating and talking about Parkinson's."
Rock Steady is aiming for a goal of 10,000 pushups and to raise up to $10,000.
The gym is an affiliate Rock Steady Boxing, an internationally recognized program with headquarters in Indianapolis. Reap, whose background is in physical therapy, visited Indianapolis to train in the boxing program and now runs the gyms full time.
Classes are typically 90 minutes and consist of stretching, a warm up, boxing and a general fitness portion. Once a month, the last 30 minutes of the class is dedicated to FIST time or "friendship, information, support and talk," which functions like a support group.
"It's not considered therapy in the conventional sense; it really is group fitness," Reap said. "And there's a lot to be said about the group dynamic. With the group, there's the whole nature of camaraderie." Stankus agreed. He said the gym offers not only amazing classes but also is a source of information about the disease.
At the gym in Old Forge Wednesday, members punched heavy bags hanging from the ceiling, speed bags and body opponent bags. They worked in 2-minute rounds, a traditional boxing bell dinging when their round was up.
Before the members wrapped up their workout Wednesday, they stood in a socially distanced circle, pointing their fists to the middle. "Ready steady ready," they yelled.
Gene Kojeski of Archbald was diagnosed with Parkinson's in 2003 and started working out at the gym in 2017. The classes have not only helped with the effects of the disease, but also his life.
"Basically, everything improved," he said.
Reap hopes the push up challenge helps get the message out that, "if you have Parkinson's, there's something that you can do about it."
"We're showing you you can push back against this disease and by having a program of movement, you can have your best quality of life," she said. "That's what Push for Parkinson's is about, it's getting the word out and letting people know we're here."
To join the challenge, visit www.my1010.org website. All pushups and donations made during the month of April 2021 will be credited toward the efforts of Rock Steady Boxing Northeast PA.
For more information on the gym, visit www.rsboxingnepa.com or Rock Steady Boxing Northeast PA on Facebook.
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