Dave Similo, 61, was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease in 2017. He says he was devastated when he found out—but working with the Rock Steady Boxing program has helped. He attributes boxing classes to helping his voice control, balance, and more, all of which helps him live a more “normal” life. In light of April being Parkinson's Awareness Month, Dave shared his experience with MH, in his words.
Before I was diagnosed with Parkinson's, I stayed active, but not with regular exercise. I joined gyms throughout the years, but was never motivated to keep attending. At age 58, I started experiencing right handed tremors, mainly when I was under stress. But they were becoming more frequent, and I finally went to my primary care physician. He stated that he felt I may have Parkinson's Disease (PD), and referred me to a neurologist. The neurologist put me through a series of tests that confirmed this diagnosis. A DAT scan again confirmed.
At that time, I also realized I was experiencing other symptoms, including less ability to handle stress, and my right shoulder would drop when I was tired (causing a change in my gait). I was also more fatigued, and my hand eye coordination was slower. I guess I was ignoring my symptoms.
It was devastating when I was diagnosed. I felt like my life was over because I thought the worst and had no knowledge about the disease, other than there was no cure. After a few months, I made the decision I could either sit on the couch and sulk or take charge of my life.
With the support of my wife, I started reading up on Parkinson’s to educate myself. I found the research that exercise was found to slow and even reverse the progression of Parkinson's. That was the turning point in my fight against Parkinson’s.
My neurologist also strongly stressed exercise to slow the progression of my Parkinson's and improve my quality of life. I went online to Michael J. Fox's website, and one of their recommendations was the Rock Steady Boxing program. It is a boxing program that was created to help alleviate the symptoms and maintain quality of life specifically for people with Parkinson’s Disease. I Googled it, and was fortunate to find a Title Boxing Club that was local (for me, that was Title Boxing Club University Park.) So I stopped by to ask questions, and they invited me to observe a class. I was nervous because I had never boxed before. They were very encouraging and supportive. I ended up joining the next day, figuring I have nothing to lose and everything to gain. It was the best decision I’ve ever made.
How Boxing Helps Parkinson's Patients
The Rock Steady Boxing classes target five issues that Parkinson's impacts:
Balance: As PD progresses balance can become a huge issue. Instructors focus on agility training with jumps and exercises to help improve core muscles and help reduce falls.
Flexibility: Each class starts with a ton of stretching to help participants with tightened muscles. This can increase movement to help body rotation, extending steps and improving posture.
Mobility: Walking, standing and jumping can be hard for those with PD. The Rock Steady Boxing program incorporates exercises that focus on getting in and out of chairs, two feet jumps and walking around the boxing bags.
Cognitive Agility: Problems with memory and attention are targeted in these classes as well. Trainers will have members do math problems while exercising or include other cognitive exercises into the activities.
Vocal: PD can cause loss of voice volume and can make people feel like they are shouting but they’re speaking softly. In classes, members are asked to count along when doing reps, scream as hard as they can and other fun speaking activities to exercise their vocal cords.
I was diagnosed just over three years ago, and at my recent neurologist appointment he stated that my Parkinson’s has not advanced since my diagnosis. He attributed it to the exercise, and stressed that I continue what I'm doing. I have much better balance, agility, hand eye coordination, focus, and especially confidence.
I currently box four times a week. I take three Rock Steady Classes, and I have even been attending a MMA class once a week to challenge myself. I also ride my stationary bike regularly. The only Parkinson’s medication I am on is called Rasagiline, which helps manage various Parkinson's symptoms. I am hoping the exercise will keep me off other medications for as long as possible.
I am very thankful to the owner-manager, Joe Romeo, for his continuing support of this program. Also, my trainers, Kane Henneke, Manny Arce and Rollie Briggs (who also encourages me weekly at MMA). They are the most knowledgeable, supportive and encouraging group of individuals I have ever met. I couldn’t do it without their enthusiasm and creativity, as no two classes are ever alike. They push me further than I thought I could ever go. I am also thankful to the rest of my Parkinson’s group boxers who are there to support each other in this fight. I say all the time: we are not here to exercise, but to fight for our quality of life. Since TITLE Boxing Club in University Park started the classes 5 years ago, they have seen similar successes in over 100-plus participants.
If you were recently diagnosed or have had Parkinson's for a while, remember to stay positive and find the exercise program that keeps you moving. Boxing was mine. Never give up.
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