Rock Steady Boxing helps fighters KO Parkinson’s disease

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- The sights and sounds are the same as they'd be in an old-school gym in some place like Philadelphia or Detroit, but the people working out at Rock Steady Boxing on Indy’s north side are a little different than the typical boxer.

They’re not the young, hungry fighter who’s looking to knock out another person, these are slightly older man and women who want to KO Parkinson’s disease.

Indiana’s very own Kristy Follmar is the head trainer at RSB. She’s been putting boxers through the paces for ten years now, ever since former Marion County prosecutor Scott Newman – who was battling early onset Parkinson’s and was doing boxing exercises – asked her to join him and come up with a program to help others.

“There weren't any other exercise programs that we could learn from,” says Follmar, “so we, we kind of had to make things up as we went. And experiment with things with what worked and what didn`t work.”

According to doctors at the University of Indianapolis, the program works. While there is no cure for Parkinson’s, the exercises at RSB are shown to slow the progress of the disease.

“We’re not focusing on therapy and we’re not honing in on the symptoms. It’s kind of hidden within the workout, and they get to become a boxer,” Follmar says.

Kristy was a World Champion boxer and the techniques she uses now are ones she worked to perfect in her time as a fighter. Everything serves a purpose. Punches work the hands which may show tremors from the disease. A boxer’s stance and footwork can help balance issues. Loud music blaring during workouts make boxers focus on the task at hand. “Question of the day” sessions at the start of each workout force the men and women to speak loudly – something that gets more difficult with Parkinson’s.

“It’s kind of a hybrid program, we’re doing everything,” says Follmar. “Anything and everything we know that helps people with Parkinson’s disease is kind of mixed in to the fighters' regimen.”

There are 140 Rock Steady affiliates worldwide now, and Kristy and her team are heading to Portland in the fall for the World Parkinson’s Congress where they’ll set up their bags and workout stations alongside doctors and major drug companies.

“We were told three years ago when we went to the World’s Parkinson’s Congress that we were the only exhibit that was actually doing something,” says Follmar. “The rest of them were promoting drugs and light therapy and we were getting our people in the thick of it and actually doing something. “

Kristy says she thinks Rock Steady will have thousands of affiliates in 10 years and will have a meaningful impact on not only the lives of the boxers but also those who coach them.

“It can be emotional to see your friends struggle but it’s very gratifying to see them get better at times. Yeah, you – you kind of fall in love with these people, it’s much more than a gym, it becomes your family.”

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