My family and I began to notice symptoms a year or so before my Parkinson’s disease (PD) diagnosis in October, 2013, but I attributed them to “just getting older.” We had gone to visit my sister and she knew right away that something was wrong. She threatened an intervention if I didn’t get things checked out, so we started with my family doctor, who suspected PD right away. My symptoms didn’t fit a nice neat diagnosis, so there were several tests and visits to different neurologists until we were referred to a fantastic neurologist who specializes in movement disorders at Pennsylvania Hospital in Philadelphia.
She confirmed the diagnosis and we began the journey of dialing in the meds, a very difficult and trying process, as any PD patient will confirm. Early on, before I
started going to Philadelphia, there had been some frightening side effects from the standard “go to” PD medication.
Consequently, I was very reluctant to change meds or dosages. Thankfully, my neurologist was able to dial in a course of medication without any of the issues I had first encountered. She gave me the knowledge and the confidence to manage my meds on my own, based on my symptoms and activity level.
In January of 2014, I began Big and Loud therapy at Allied Services in Scranton. This was the beginning of my journey to fight back against PD. The physical, occupational, and speech therapies were enlightening and empowering, and I came to realize that it really is possible to minimize symptoms and improve my quality of life by being as active as I could and incorporating techniques and movements from Big and Loud into everyday activities.
These methods served me pretty well, even as the PD progressed and the amount of meds I needed continued to gradually increase. Then, in the fall of 2016, I happened to see a piece on the local news about a new gym in Old Forge offering Rock Steady Boxing, an exercise program for Parkinson’s patients utilizing modified boxing techniques.
Intrigued, I did some research and then contacted the gym to see if I could observe a class. The proprietor and coach, Kathy Reap, invited me to come in for an evaluation to determine my level of capability. Rock Steady Boxing segments its boxers into four categories. Based on the evaluation, patients, or “Parkies” as we call ourselves, are placed in the appropriate level class. Kathy assigned me to a class and I began attending her gym three days a week in January, 2016.
The benefits were apparent to me almost immediately. This program, though challenging, has become an integral and indispensable part of my life. The improvements I experienced in mobility, range of motion and tremor control are remarkable and empowering, but the camaraderie, confidence, and fun are truly transformative.
Within just a few months, I began assisting Kathy with other classes. When another volunteer, a physical therapy student from College Misericordia, mentioned to me one day that I would make a good coach, I had a revelation. It was so satisfying and exciting for me to help other Parkies that I decided to take the Rock Steady Boxing certification course and become a coach.
That very day, after I returned home from the gym, I enrolled in the first available RSB certification class. Kathy was very excited for me to become certified and gave me lots of good advice and suggestions for my trip to Indianapolis, Indiana, which is where Rock Steady Boxing is headquartered and where all of the certification training takes place.
As the date of the training grew closer, I began to get nervous about what to expect and whether my own PD would limit my ability to be the kind of coach RSB requires. This was really important to me and I knew I would be devastated if I wasn’t able to be certified.
We arrived in Indianapolis the day before and stopped by the RSB headquarters and were greeted by such friendly and enthusiastic people, I knew right away that this was going to be a great experience. The instructors were so supportive and encouraging that all “coaches in training” felt truly inspired, motivated, and like we’d all been adopted into a new family. Their passion and dedication to the program and to improving the lives of Parkies was infectious and energizing!
As a result, I received my official RSB Coaching certification! After spending two and a half days together it was hard to say goodbye to my trainers and classmates, but exciting to know that I was bringing home a wealth of knowledge to help improve the lives of others with PD. Living with the disease firsthand allows me to understand the issues that others are experiencing, even though it sometimes makes it difficult for me to keep up with the physical aspects of coaching. Having PD and embracing Rock Steady Boxing has given me the honor of helping others in a way that is more profound and meaningful than I could have imagined, and, for that, I am grateful. I hope to remain an integral part of my Rock Steady Boxing family for a very long time.
– George boxes and coaches with Rock Steady Boxing Northeast PA in Old Forge, PA