HAZLE TOWNSHIP, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) — Many of us worry as we get older about the increased risk of Parkinson’s, dementia and other age-related degenerative disorders. 60,000 people are diagnosed with Parkinson’s each year. A relatively new program is giving Parkinson’s patients a “Rock Steady” foundation to fight back.
With every combination and with each punch thrown, several men are putting their bodies to the test at Fyzical Therapy and Balance Center. “Oh, it’s a killer,” laughed Robert Gau of Lake Harmony. “It’s pretty grueling.”
Up to three times a week at Fyzical, as many as seven men are training to fight a common foe: Parkinson’s. “We try to push them to do things that they thought they were never able to do or wouldn’t be able to do again,” said Fyzical’s Director of Physical Fitness, Trainer and Rock Steady Boxing Coach Bradley Baloga.
Bradley Baloga is a certified coach in Rock Steady Boxing — a program developed in Indianapolis in 2006 geared specifically toward patients battling the progressive, neurological disorder. It’s now offered at nearly 500 locations worldwide. 66-year-old David Pesansky of Black Creek Township is among the Parkinson’s patients participating in the program. “I knew I needed something because my muscles were just deteriorating and I needed to build up so I said I’ll give it a shot and see what happens.”
What’s happened for Mr. Pesansky is what’s happened for so many other Parkinson’s patients that pills can’t always provide — reducing, delaying and even reversing the disease’s effects. Mr. Baloga said, “You’re hitting the heavy bags as hard as you can. You’re trying to hit the various bags with coordination. It’s a lot of rhythm.”
And it’s not just jabs. Stretching exercises help with stiffness. Footwork drills target balance. Shaking massive ropes helps build core strength. And the shouting? That combats their soft-voice syndrome and gets them pumped up. Mr. Baloga said, “They kind of participate together, help each other if they need, push each other if needed and it creates that environment where you’re not alone and you’re able to make progress like that.”
Mr. Pesansky was diagnosed with early Parkinson’s a decade ago. “I still have good days and bad days, good hours and bad hours,” he said. He enrolled in Rock Steady Boxing at Fyzical in late 2016. His improvement is so vast, he managed to shovel his driveway after the blizzard last winter when his snowblower broke. “Now, six months before that I would not have been able to even attempt that,” he said. “It took me longer than usual but I got it all shoveled out.”
Mr. Gau, who is 58-years-old and diagnosed with Parkinson’s and Lewy Body Dementia, struggled with the most basic of tasks before Rock Steady Boxing. “Well, you can’t get out of bed. You can’t button your shirt. You can’t tie up your shoes. You walk into walls. You can’t stand stable. You just trip and fall most of the time.”
Barely a month into the program, he’s still taking what he calls “baby steps” but he said, “It helps you improve your lifestyle… to get back your life under control, to get it back together.”
For Parkinson’s patients like Mr. Gau and Mr. Pesansky, what’s gained through Rock Steady Boxing is more than just the physical. They are also reaping the benefits of bonding with others waging the same fight. It’s what helps keeps them coming back week after week to take a swing against a disease that leaves its victims feeling alone. Mr. Gau said, “They make you feel confident. Make you be able to talk about it rather than being caged in the corner and feel bad about yourself.” Mr. Pesansky added, “I know I’m going to see these guys. I’m going to have fun with these guys. We’re going to joke around and we’re going to get some smiles out of this as well as some work.”