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FC residents fight against Parkinson’s disease with boxing class

Parkinson’s disease, a neurodegenerative disorder usually associated with tremors and muscle rigidity, affects nearly one million people in the United States. Upwards of 60,000 new diagnoses of Parkinson’s are recorded each year, according to the Parkinson’s Foundation. Diagnosis is usually made via observation, and there is no known cure.

A few Franklin County residents have found a way to fight back against the disease, however, in what might seem a most unlikely way: boxing.

Rock Steady Boxing, a class in The Basement Gym owned by Jamie Poole in downtown Florence, is working to help people who suffer from Parkinson’s manage the symptoms of the disease – such as muscle rigidity, loss of balance, slowness of movement and postural instability.

“Rock Steady Boxing enables people with Parkinson’s disease to fight the disease by providing a non-contact boxing-style fitness program to improve their quality of life and sense of self-worth,” explained Gena Tsukashima, an occupational therapist and program coach. “We provide encouragement through a ‘tough love’ approach that inspires maximum effort, speed, strength, balance and flexibility.”

David Willis, a former teacher and coach in the Franklin County Schools system, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2014, and he has experienced firsthand the benefit of Rock Steady Boxing.

“The class has helped me with my balance, strength and coordination,” said Willis. “I have also seen improvements in my handwriting.”

Gerald Hester, a senior vice-president with CB&S Bank, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2017.

“This has been very good for me,” said Hester, who has been doing the class for six months. “It is hard work, but I can tell a big difference in just the little things like balance and coordination.”

Amy Moss, a teacher and coach at Phil Campbell High School, was diagnosed with early-onset Parkinson’s disease in 2016.

“I love going to the class,” said Moss. “I have developed a lot of friendships, and it has helped my confidence and has given me the encouragement to keep fighting every day.”

Willis agreed. “I like the camaraderie in the class with the other boxers … It has given me hope in delaying the progression of the disease.”

Parkinson’s disease was brought into the national spotlight by Family Ties and Back To The Future star Michael J. Fox and his foundation to find a cure for the disease.