It’s amazing how sometimes what may seem like a curse can prove to be far less than that.
“At 71 years of age, I really feel like I’m in better shape physically than I have been in years!” my friend Priscilla Mikesell said of her current experience in Rock Steady Boxing.
The nonprofit is designed to improve the quality of life for people in various stages of Parkinson’s disease through a non-contact boxing fitness program.
She and I have been friends for a very long time, and I’d known her to be very active.
“Up until 1990, I was playing tennis and golf, skiing and more,” she said. “Then I had a garage door come down on me, compressing several discs. I was never the same. Six years went by, and I finally broke down and had surgery that did not go right — I was out of work for eight years.”
While this did not contribute to her diagnosis of Parkinson’s in November of last year, it did set her up for a mindset about her body and abilities.
A number of years ago, Mikesell — not one for taking things for granted nor lying down — decided to wean off the cycle of pain meds for her chronic pain. She was a champ and kicked them. A strong, kind, compassionate person, when she started noticing tremors, she went to get checked out.
“I became very careful about everything I did, was careful not to put myself in positions where I might fall,” she said.
And she started to research and learn about her condition so she could make the best decisions about her new phase in life.
It was in a Parkinson’s support group that she first learned of Rock Steady Boxing, an international program that started in 2006, designed to help folks with this issue, retrain or sometimes “trick” the mind into being able to do things it didn’t think it could. It has to do with “neuroplasticity” and the regrouping of neurons in the brain.
There is a program in Atascadero, San Luis Obispo and Santa Maria. Why boxing? From their website, rocksteadyboxing.org: “Boxers condition for optimal agility, speed, muscular endurance, accuracy, balance, hand-eye coordination, footwork and overall strength to defend against and overcome opponents. At Rock Steady the opponent is Parkinson’s disease.
“Parkinson’s causes a loss in many of the same elements that boxers condition to improve. And published medical research has shown that forced, intense exercise can reduce, reverse and delay Parkinson’s symptoms. We also know that a diversity of symptoms needs to be addressed simultaneously.
“In comparison with other sports, boxing is the most physically demanding styles of training, according to a study conducted by ESPN and by people who have done it! But in addition to being an intense, diverse form of training, boxing is also an incredible stress reliever, confidence booster and FUN!”
Mikesell’s teacher, David Sanchez, will often start the class with jumping jacks, often modified to meet specific clients’ needs. Actually, almost all exercises are modified to help folks perform the tasks to the best of their abilities and thereby build their skills.
“Oh, my goodness… jumping rope? That is a skill that left me quite some time ago,” Mikesell said laughing. “But boy does it require concentration! Talk about walking and chewing gum at the same time!”
They may play Noodle Ball — using a pool noodle to send a ball around the gym in field hockey style.
“Boy, did my competitive nature get revived!” she said.
Activities are altered and changed every session to cover all areas of the brain and body, be they push-ups, sit-ups or whatever, but they always include cardiovascular movements. And then there is the boxing once the bodies are warmed up.
“You don’t realize what coordination it takes! The number of jabs and punches are tracked as is any other exercise we do,” she said. “They really watch out for us there! They also teach us, by the way, how to fall and also how to get up from a fall… I’ve known people who have fallen and were unable to get help for two days! I’m really grateful for learning this!”
When I asked her what she got most out of this she told me, “You know, I’ve come to realize that I’m not defective. I’ve been able to make peace with it. Being together in this type of program, you realize you are not alone. We’re all there in a spirit of compassion and fun. Rock Steady is so empowering — I’ve got my confidence back about my body and my life!”
Rock on, Priscilla!