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When I first started Rock Steady Boxing, I absolutely HATED it. First, I had just been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease at age 40. I lived 1,000 miles away from home and telling my large network of supporters had been quite overwhelming. The only gym in the area that offered Rock Steady Boxing was about an hour away, too far for me to drive on my own.

I asked my elderly father-in-law to bring me to and from class. And while he never complained, and rather enjoyed watching our class, this too did not sit well with me. I am fiercely independent and asking for help has not always been a strength of mine. I was a Northerner living in the South, and when setting up my assessment with the coach, she did not understand my “accent.” (To this day I insist it is she with the accent, not me.) Feeling quite anxious, I looked to a new friend for support. On the surface, we had little in common, but as we got to know each other better, a lot of deeper similarities were exposed, making us lifelong friends.

Rachel had just been through a disabling injury while serving in our military. She put in a lot of hard work making a comeback, falling back on her competitive swimming regimen and starting yoga. She was soon transformed mentally, spiritually, and physically. She knew that I needed to do Rock Steady Boxing before I did! While I recovered from the initial shock of my diagnosis, she looked up what to do about it, and waited for me to come to her for advice. She quickly offered to be my corner person and wouldn’t take “NO” for an answer. Not wanting to inconvenience another person with such a big commitment, I told her I’d see how the first class went and let her know if I was going to do it regularly when I got home. She showed up anyway.

Day One Fitness was so welcoming! I walked in with a chip on my shoulder. Really out of shape, anxious, and zero boxing experience, I kept to myself. The coach with the accent wrapped my hands, carefully explaining what she was doing and why. I barely listened, knowing that this was a 1-time thing, I wasn’t doing this. No way.

I was panting heavily and wanting to run for the door before the warmup was over. Mirrors everywhere showed my red face and jiggling body. I constantly checked the clock to see when the hour class would be done. “40 minutes to go,” “halfway there,” kept repeating in my head instead of counting reps or talking to anyone. Not that I had the breath to do so. Just as I thought “it’s almost over,” coach yelled “Get your gloves on and meet me at the bags!” Wait… what? Rachel reminded me class was an hour and A HALF long. A lot of unladylike language came out of my mouth, not caring to be respectable in front of others. I was never going to see them again, anyway.

At the bags with what seemed to be bricks attached to my hands, I tried to mimic how the others were standing. Coach asked which was my dominant side, I tried to explain that I’m nearly ambidextrous, and both sides can be my dominant side. She had others to coach, and had to get back into the work out, and quickly said, “You’re right handed, stand like this. Orthodox.” She left to help someone else. Fine then.

Coach quickly yells out a combo and presses a button on a box in the corner, making a loud beeping noise. Rachel and I look at each other in disbelief. The other boxers start doing as coach told them to, and she came over to Rachel and I to show us what to do. We quickly got the hang of it.

At last, Coach says, “Gloves off, wraps off. Let’s meet back on the mat,” and I sighed with relief taking off those heavy glove-shaped bricks. I was so sweaty and miserable. The group assembles in a rough circle, going through some stretching exercises. As we get on our hands and knees, we are instructed to do cat/cow yoga poses, flexing our spines. We continue in silence, until a deep, booming voice from across the mat says, “MOOOOOOOO!” I look at Rachel and say more unladylike words, laughing. After we put out hands together chanting “WORK HARD, FIGHT BACK, ROCK STEADY!” Coach says, “Alright Rachel and Jennifer, whatcha think?” And before I could say anything, Rachel brightly says, “We loved it! It was great! We will be back for sure!” Knowing full well how I was feeling. My eyes told her so. Coach picked up on this, and matching Rachel’s enthusiasm, “Oh great! That’s wonderful! So what are y’all’s boxer names, then? Or do we get to name you?” Great… I hadn’t planned to get this far, and didn’t have one ready. I was drawing a blank. “Her name is Hood Rat.” I hear coming from my friend. “NO IT IS NOT.” I protest, but at the same time coach says, “Hood Rat? Ok, yeah, I like it.” “But I don’t.” futilely responding. Coach says, “well, now you get to name her.” “OK…. Pterodactyl.”

I did stick with Rock Steady Boxing, and Rachel did stick by me. It is now 4 ½ years since my day one. I absolutely LOVE Rock Steady Boxing, and will talk to anyone half listening about how great it is. Rachel became a certified RSB coach, and she also got me to try yoga, which I really love, too. Rachel and I have each moved back to our home states and away from that gym, coach, and boxers that say “MOO.” But we remain as close as ever.

Jennifer “Hood Rat” Crowder is currently a boxer at RSB Suffield, CT; Hits & Kicks