A new boxing program in Williamsburg is helping those with Parkinson’s fight off the sometimes debilitating effects of the disease.
“It really makes you feel like you’re in control at least a little more because you drive doing the exercise, you’re not just taking a pill and hoping for the best,” said Jean Petkofsky, one of about 70 members of the Rock Steady boxing program offered through Comber Physical Therapy and Fusion Chiropractic.
Parkinson’s Disease is a neurological disorder that progresses over time, causing tremors, rigidity, balance and other issues, according to the Parkinson’s Foundation.
Rock Steady is a national organization that trains coaches and places affiliate programs across the country to help those with Parkinson’s perform exercises that are targeted to combat certain elements of the disease, according to the organization’s website.
Scott Brubaker Jr., neurological program director at Comber, first decided to open the program in Williamsburg after hearing about it on the news. Brubaker said that he had just finished school and was looking for a way to combine his interests in neurological disorders with a way to help others.
“Boxing is great because it produces high intensity movements,” Brubaker said. “People with Parkinson’s tend to move smaller and slower and more unsteady. But boxers move with power, speed and agility.”
For Rachel Carter, program coordinator and Rock Steady certified coach, working with people with Parkinson’s is the most rewarding role she could ask for, she said. Parkinson’s is a disease that also runs in her family, so she knows first hand how it can affect a person’s life.
“What we want is fitness and sweat,” Carter said. “But most importantly, we want fun.”
When the program first began two years ago, there were only two classes a week with six people in each class. Now there are 14 classes each week, four coaches and around 70 members.
People who join the program pay a monthly fee of $75, or six months for $65 a month. That gives participants access to unlimited classes and open gym time.
Pressing pause on Parkinson’s
For many of the members, Rock Steady has become their best defense against the disease.
When Joe Geiger was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 1991, he didn’t know how his life would be different.
“They placed a piece of paper in front of me and said ‘draw concentric circles,’ and I couldn’t do it,” Geiger said. “I just couldn’t do it.”
For years, Geiger used a stationary bike to help lessen the effects of the disease, but he found that the boxing workouts helped him just as much, if not more.
Petkofsky was diagnosed with Parkinson’s three years ago, after her husband noticed her left arm was stiff while they were out on a walk. Since then Petkofsky has attended as many boxing classes as possible and has found that the disease’s progression has plateaued.
“Last time I went to the doctor, he told me that all the stiffness in my arm was pretty much gone,” Petkofsky said. “I haven’t really progressed like I should — it’s encouraging.”
And that’s exactly the results Brubaker is looking for.
Attitude is everything
A large part of what keeps participants returning to the classes is not only the results, but also the energetic and positive atmosphere created by the coaches, the members said.
When Brubaker enters the room, he makes sure there isn’t a moment that isn’t filled with smiles and encouragement. Geiger said he’s never seen Brubaker have a bad day, and that makes all the difference in class.
“Sometimes my wife will say to me, ‘You’ve got to realize that it’s not going to be happy at the end of this stuff,’” Brubaker said. “And while we can’t cure the disease, we’re doing something about it.”