Rock Steady at Towson Y brings hope (and courage) to Parkinson's patients

A new program at the Orokawa Y in Towson is making an impact in the lives of Parkinson’s disease patients. Rock Steady Boxing takes aim at combating symptoms and enhancing quality of life.

About 60,000 Americans are diagnosed with Parkinson’s each year — men more often than women. This chronic, progressive neurological disorder often leads to symptoms such as tremors, slow movement, stiffness, loss of balance and dementia.

Towson Y coaches Julie Lincoln and Kelly Keh were trained and certified to offer the Rock Steady non-contact, boxing-based fitness curriculum, originally developed in Indianapolis in 2006 and now catching on across the country and worldwide. The theory behind Rock Steady is that high-intensity exercise like boxing can be neuro-protective, stimulating renewed growth of the kinds of brain cells damaged by Parkinson’s, resulting in slowing or halting progression of the disease.

The exercises of Rock Steady target specific symptoms: Stretching counters stiffness; footwork improves balance; punching steadies tremors; shouting counters soft-voice syndrome, and sparring boosts coordination. Some participants come in depressed and experiencing limitations. As they are pushed to test their boundaries, both physically and mentally, they are rewarded with increased courage and confidence. It is an inspirational experience for coaches and classmates alike.

“This is the most motivated, positive group I have ever worked with,” Lincoln said. “They hit hard, they work to get steady and fight back against the effects of Parkinson's. Rock Steady Boxing is about taking the disease on, swinging and sweating all the way.”

Rather than hopping into an actual boxing ring, the Y uses the BoxMaster tower trainers and state-of-the-art Queenax functional fitness circuit system to teach boxing moves and combinations and to help participants develop stamina, coordination, agility and cardiovascular health.

Camaraderie is also a big factor in Rock Steady’s success. “This group is awesome. They are supportive and genuinely care for one another,” Lincoln said. “We began in November, and it has just been magical how much they have progressed.”

Right now, 14 participants are enrolled in the ongoing program. Classes run on Tuesdays and Fridays, from 11:30 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. Lincoln says they have spaces available for more enrollees, and they hope to add even more groups, times and trainers as demand grows. There is currently no charge for the program, and it is hoped that will remain the case, but if it does become necessary to start charging, Lincoln says she aims to keep costs affordable to ensure accessibility for all.

“The greatest success story we have so far is Bob,” Lincoln said. “He came in telling us that he was going to lose his cane, and within just three weeks he had. Today, we were cracking up as he laced simple footwork with smooth dance moves. It was awesome.”

Learn more at orokawa.rsbaffiliate.com or contact Julie Lincoln at julielincoln@ymaryland.org for intake information if you or someone you know would be interested in the Rock Steady program at the Towson Y.

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