Seattle boxing gym giving hope to Parkinson’s patients

Apr 11, 2017, 2:52 PM | Updated: 3:44 pm

There’s a special boxing class at a North Seattle gym that is teaching more than the perfect left hook. It’s helping students battle Parkinson’s Disease.

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Glenn Haberle, of Snohomish, was first diagnosed with Parkinson’s two years ago when he was 68 years old.

“Like most of us, it came on before the diagnosis,” Glenn recalled. “I had noticed that I was drifting when driving my car. When I got diagnosed was when the tremors appeared.”

Glenn also suffers from loss of muscle control and coordination. But each patient experiences the disease in their own way.

Brian Herbison, of Seattle, was diagnosed six years ago when he was 67 years old.

“The symptoms for me were the tremors and the shuffling, and then they went on from there,” Brian explained.

He also experienced fatigue and depression.

Glenn and Brian have found a common ally in Rock Steady Boxing. The nonprofit program specifically created for Parkinson’s patients started in Indianapolis several years ago. It came to Seattle just this year, thanks to Donovan and Jody Loomis. They decided to become certified trainers after Jody’s dad was diagnosed.

“He’s doing pretty good, considering, but I wanted to motivate him,” Jody shared. “He loves it!”

Both Judy and Donovan took a three-day boot camp to become certified Rocky Steady Boxing trainers. Then they decided to continue their education to become certified personal trainers and boxing instructors. They’re also working to learn more about Parkinson’s.

“It is a different kind of community,” Donovan said. “They all have, not only Parkinson’s, but all these other issues that go along with it, as far as aging.”

Each of the students gets a physical assessment before the first class, so the trainers will learn their specific symptoms, challenges, and goals.

“We do a lot of stretching, walking exercises — helping them fall properly,” Jody explained. “So, if they are on the ground and they get frozen, how do they get up? Boxing helps with that, too, because you’re doing a lot of upper body, core, everything else.”

The class is fun, but it’s not easy. Even for Brian, who trained for years in Martial Arts and Boxing.

“It’s so much harder!” he laughed.

Brian says the boxing keeps him energized and from focusing on the negative effects of the disease.

“That’s part of what anybody with Parkinson’s deals with,” Brian said. “That and getting older – your list of ‘used to’s’ gets bigger and bigger. Finding anything that you can feel like you’re getting better at, that you can feel some progress on, is huge.”

They jump rope to practice coordination, do modified burpees to work on their strength and mobility, and use the speed bag to deal with their emotions.

“It’s a good feeling, gets a little bit of the aggression out in an acceptable way,” Glenn confided.

Glenn’s wife, Debbie, says she’s seen a big difference with Rock Steady Boxing. After Glenn became stuck on the floor a few months ago, she thought she was going to have to call 911 for help. Now, he can get up and down on his own.

Debbie says it gives her peace of mind that Glenn will be safe while she’s at work. And she says she can tell Donovan and Jody really care about her husband.

“As a caregiver, it’s good to have the support of people who want to do these things to help,” Debbie said. “I am thankful for that. I thank God every day.”

There are Rock Steady Boxing programs in Seattle’s Northgate neighborhood, Bellevue, and Redmond.

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Seattle boxing gym giving hope to Parkinson’s patients