Randy Ballard (at far right), of FirstHealth Fitness-Pinehurst, discusses “Rock Steady Boxing” with one of the people attending a recent open house introducing the new program for individuals dealing with Parkinson’s disease.
PINEHURST – A few years ago, a 40-something Indiana prosecutor decided he would rather fight than give in to his diagnosis of early-onset Parkinson’s disease, a neurological disorder that first presents with movement problems.
So fight Scott C. Newman did, engaging in an intense, one-on-one boxing training program to which he attributes a noticeable improvement in his physical health, agility and daily functioning. Instead of the tremors common to Parkinson’s patients, Newman saw that his hands had once again become “rock steady.”
That’s how the “Rock Steady Boxing” program got its start. From the original one location with six participants, the program has since grown to more than 280 programs in 44 states and 12 international locations, including FirstHealth Fitness-Pinehurst.
Randy Ballard, coordinator of the Lifestyle Enhancement Center at FirstHealth Fitness-Pinehurst, is a certified “Rock Steady Boxing” instructor. A martial arts participant and instructor for more than 30 years, Ballard is himself a North Carolina kickboxing champion and has trained three World Champion kick boxers.
During the training that he and FirstHealth’s Brittany Sayers, a certified personal trainer, went through to become certified instructors, he observed the “Rock Steady” process first hand and can attest to its success.
“These people have a disease for which there’s no cure and most doctors will say is progressive,” Ballard says. “With boxing, a lot of people feel like they’re fighting back against the disease so they feel empowered. It’s really, really neat to see their confidence and camaraderie build.”
Ballard describes “Rock Steady Boxing” as a high-intensity exercise for an exercise population more likely to be steered toward low-intensity activities. Unlike traditional boxing, there is no contact, no sparring and no hitting. As with traditional boxing rounds, however, there are intensive periods of work and then rest as the participant engages in traditional boxing moves aimed at boxing equipment instead of a human opponent.
The only faceoff is with the trainer calling the moves and handling the equipment, which for the FirstHealth Fitness program was provided through a grant from the Neuro Care Fund of The Foundation of FirstHealth.
“When they’re hitting the bag, they’re fighting the disease and taking it out on the bag,” Ballard says.
Unlike other exercise forms like stationary bike-riding or treadmill walking/running, “Rock Steady Boxing” also challenges the brain by encouraging the participant to think about the movements the instructor is tossing out.
“It helps the brain,” says Ballard, “which has to process what a jab is, what a cross is, what a hook is and how to put them together. There’s very little thought process that goes into other exercises as opposed to boxing.”
Improved balance can also be a “Rock Steady” outcome, because the boxer begins each series of moves from a traditional boxing stance.
There are two levels of “Rock Steady” classes: one for participants not as affected by the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease and another for those at higher risk, especially for falls. Individual evaluations determine the level of participation, which Ballard sees as wide-ranging.
“You could be in a wheelchair and still participate,” he says.
“Rock Steady Boxing” classes, which are for Parkinson’s patients only, will be held Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 11 a.m. to noon beginning June 5 at FirstHealth Fitness-Pinehurst. The cost is $10 per class or $50 for unlimited classes per month for fitness center members or $20 per class for the community. To register, inquire at the front desk of FirstHealth Fitness-Pinehurst or call 715-1800.