IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — Lana Todd knew nothing about boxing when she signed up for a class in Iowa City this fall.
Todd, 53, has had Parkinson’s disease for about 13 years. The disease affected her posture and she had poor balance, causing her to fall down. So when she heard that Iowa City’s ICOR Boxing offered a class in Rock Steady Boxing — a type of non-contact boxing specifically designed for people with Parkinson’s — she signed up right away.
“The point that really got to me is it has to be intense, forced exercise. And that’s what this is,” she said. “I mean, they push us and it’s definitely intense, it’s definitely forced and it’s made a world of difference for me.”
The class is taught by ICOR Boxing co-owners and operators Emily Klinefelter and Clif Johnson. Based on a national curriculum offered by Rock Steady Boxing, a nonprofit headquartered in Indianapolis, it employs a range of fitness and vocal exercises designed to fight and slow the progress of Parkinson’s.
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The 90-minute classes meet three times a week at the ICOR gym at 1127 Shirken Dr. in Iowa City. There’s no one-on-one sparring, but there are punching bags, dexterity and hand-eye coordination drills, footwork drills to help with balance, vocal strengthening exercises and fall-down drills to teach people how to roll into a fall without hurting themselves.
Beyond the benefits of a rigorous workout, Klinefelter said participating in the class can connect people to others who are going through the same experience with Parkinson’s, the Iowa City Press-Citizen reported .
“It’s more than just the physical aspect of it,” she said. “It’s the camaraderie, the support, the team aspect of it.”
And lack of boxing experience should not stop anyone from signing up for a Rock Steady class, Klinefelter said. The current class members had never boxed before, either.
“They probably never thought they would be boxing in a million years,” Klinefelter said. “We’re not beating each other up or anything. It’s a great positive thing. People are getting in a good workout.”
Todd was the first one to sign up for the class when it began in September. Now she makes the drive from Columbus Junction to Iowa City three times a week.
She keeps active in several other ways, as well. She teaches piano lessons, stays involved in her church and other community activities and recently began volunteering to teach an English as a second language class.
“Just to keep my mind going and do something different that I haven’t done before,” she said.
In a way, her experience teaching piano lessons makes boxing a good fit for her, she said.
“I really like the speed bag a lot,” she said. “And part of it is maybe because I enjoy music and I love to get that rhythm. Plus it’s a new challenge for me. I’ve never done anything like that before.”
Donna Davis, 79, said Rock Steady has helped her husband as well. People with Parkinson’s can suffer rapid declines in vocal intensity and she said the program’s verbal exercises have strengthened 81-year-old Paul Davis’ voice since he began taking classes earlier this fall.
“I don’t know if it’s the class or just the interaction, but we think that there is a difference,” she said.
Paul Davis, a former principal at Kirkwood, Horn and Grant Wood elementary schools in Iowa City, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in November 2014 after falling several times. He has trouble walking and uses a wheelchair or walker to help him get around.
Rock Steady is helping him work on his footwork. Supported by a gait belt held by a coach, Paul Davis can stand and punch the speed bag, or practice where to put his feet.
“I’m enjoying it, that’s for sure,” he said of the class.
During classes, either Johnson or Klinefelter work with Davis one on one, helping him with drills tailored to fit his ability. Johnson said he’s impressed with the will Davis and the others in the class have shown to fight back against the disease.
Johnson was raised in his father’s gym in Avondale, Pennsylvania, near Philadelphia and got into boxing when he was about 12 years old, eventually boxing professionally. After serving eight years in the Marines, he came to Iowa in 2013 and joined Klinefelter — also a former professional boxer — at the gym.
“I know about boxing; I’ve been in boxing since I was pretty much a kid and I never realized how many ways it can help you out until I started to coach,” he said.
Donna Davis said she and her husband heard about the program through a presentation Johnson and Klinefelter gave at Mercy Hospital. ICOR has a Facebook page and they’ve put out some flyers, but Johnson said they haven’t done a lot of marketing for their Rock Steady class.
“We’ve been kind of going with word of mouth and talking to some of the doctors in the area and trying to get them to just bring people in,” he said. “Because it’s a small but big community, I feel like, and we just need to speak with the right people to get into the mix of things.”
Information from: Iowa City Press-Citizen, http://www.press-citizen.com/