Central New York, Feature, Health

The Fight to Knock-Out Parkinson’s

By Elissa Candiotti SYRACUSE, N.Y. (NCC News) — There’s a saying out there, “the older, the wiser,” and that might just be the case. Dozens of elders are teaching us all a vital lesson: in the face of adversity, all you can do is try to overcome. The boxers at Rock Steady Boxing in Liverpool, N.Y. are doing just that.

Trading in their canes for boxing gloves, participants are pushing themselves to win the biggest fight in their life: Parkinson’s Disease. One million people across the nation are battling the disease and approximately 600,000 are diagnosed each year, according to The National Parkinson’s Foundation. It’s a chronic disorder that causes tremors, slow movement, stiffness, and imbalance, and it only gets worse with time.

“They live with it 24/7,” Rock Steady Boxing Coach, Jeannette Riley, said. “They’re with the disease, always.”

Jeannette Riley leads classes with stretches and jumping jacks to warm-up (c) 2017 Elissa Candiotti

That reality is exactly why so many Parkinson’s victims are heading to Rock Steady Boxing, a new workout program designed to fight off the disease through exercise. The hour-long class session includes warm-ups, boxing, stretches, footwork, push-ups, sit-ups, and balance beams. Each of these exercises are designed to improve the boxers’ motor skills and more importantly, instill confidence in their ability to set goals and accomplish them.

Boxing is not only a form of exercise for the Parkinson’s patients, but also a method for relieving stress (c) 2017 Elissa Candiotti

“I don’t want to be dependent on others,” boxer Peter Bartolotta said. “That’s why I’m boxing and fighting this disease off.”

Bartolotta searched for a program like Rock Steady Boxing for quite some time, not only for more exercise, but also for a sense of community and family.

“You get to know the other people here,” Bartolotta said. “It’s special because we share similar experiences.”

Cookie Green is one of the many fellow boxers Bartolotta has come to know well over the past few classes.

“I hated exercise,” Green said. “I absolutely hated it.”

Despite that hatred, Green was ironically the first to sign up for the Liverpool program when it recently opened. She is still impressed by how much she has learned and gained from the unique experience.

Cookie Green boxes to decrease her stiffness, one of the many symptoms she has been battling from Parkinson’s Disease (c) 2017 Elissa Candiotti

“I really like boxing now,” Green said. “I feel good about myself, knowing that I’m doing something I never thought I could do in my life.”

Riley said that is exactly what makes all of the hard work worth it. The positivity and improvement among the boxers is the most rewarding part, she said.

“These are everyday people struggling, struggling every single day,” Riley said. “The Rock Steady Program is just one of the ways we can help them and spread awareness, too.”