“Your illness does not define you. Your strength and courage does.”
Story by KATRICE
Photos by JESSICA
Parkinson’s Disease remains a quite baffling illness to most. Approximately 60,000 Americans are diagnosed with the disease each year. Parkinson’s, named by 19th Century Parisian neurologist Jean Charcot on behalf of its founder James Parkinson, an early 19th Century English physician, is “a progressive disease of the nervous system,” particularly the brain. It is a degenerative movement disorder which can cause deterioration of motor skills, balance, speech and sensory functions; it most commonly affects adults above 60 years of age. At present, there is no medical cure for the disease. However, there are individuals and organizations that are relentlessly fighting to combat the affects of Parkinson’s each day.
Several past medical studies concluded that rigorous exercise aids “gross motor movement, balance, core strength, rhythm, hand-eye coordination, flexibility, posture, gait and overall daily activities.” Further, several studies have shown that rigorous and “forced exercise is neuroprotective,” causing a decrease in disease progression while “inducing brain repair and behavioral recovery.”
With an inception dating back to 2006, Rock Steady Boxing (RSB) is an Indianapolis-based 501(c)(3) organization striving to “empower people with Parkinson’s Disease to fight back” through a “non-contact fitness boxing curriculum.” With over 200 affiliate gyms across the country dedicated to this cause, RSB offers challenging workouts centered largely on boxing drills designed to help enhance “agility, speed, muscular endurance, accuracy, hand-eye coordination, footwork and strength.” Each gym is coached by qualified and certified fitness experts, whether professional boxing coaches, personal training professionals, rehabilitation specialists or occupational therapists. Due to very positive results seen with its participants, RSB was selected to be part of a study by various medical professionals comparing the “results of individuals who continue with the RSB curriculum over time” with others who are not part of the program. The results have been profound and lead to one amazing and undeniable conclusion: RSB works!
Pooler has an RSB affiliate gym. Established over a year ago, it is co-owned by Dennis and Sharon Meeks, along with Shawn and Johanna White. Shawn is the RSB coach, while his wife Johanna, who is also a talented and skilled professional Zumba instructor, assists with a variety of member workouts. Some time ago, Dennis approached Shawn about the RSB program, and Shawn subsequently traveled to Indianapolis to become a certified RSB coach. While there, Shawn learned more about the overall program and was drawn to the organization’s invaluable cause. The former professional kick boxer became certified and hasn’t looked back since; “the idea has now become a reality with a gym in Pooler.” Shawn has an incredible passion for what he does and loves to see the remarkable results of each participant.
He states, “It’s rewarding…how you see people grow. I would like for everyone with Parkinson’s to come here. I don’t make any promises—this is not going to cure Parkinson’s. What it does is that it gets people moving…gets them up…gets them engaged…gets them working. That works for me.”
One hour of non-stop workouts are held three days each week in the morning or evening, in order to accommodate individuals at different skill levels. Shawn incorporates all of the RSB concepts during his workouts, especially in the areas of strength training and flexibility.
He mentions, “We do a lot of weights…get them engaged. We’re not training anybody to be a pro-boxer. The whole philosophy behind the boxing part is that no two people throw a punch the same, so it’s just working on the different planes and neuropathways.”
Shawn does not hold back any punches but challenges each individual to give their all at each workout. He is both a caring and tough coach who pushes each member of his group to reach their full potential.
He smiles and says, “I’m a gentle giant.”
Shawn is thrilled to see the growth that each person experiences over time. Whether doing the aerobic-based exercises, weights, abdominal workouts or boxing drills, each individual is sure to receive an extensive and fulfilling workout with a variety of equipment to utilize, including gloves, speed bags, heavy bags, fitness balls and weights, just to name a few.
Dennis Meeks is a Savannah native who lives in the area; he and his wife Shaaron have two adult sons. Interestingly enough, Dennis was diagnosed with Parkinson’s about 1 ½ years ago, but that has not stopped him. After dealing with challenging symptoms prior to his diagnosis, Dennis understood the severity of the disease. He was driven to make a difference. After learning about RSB, Dennis was excited to talk to Shawn about it.
Dennis himself participates in the workouts and knows first-hand the phenomenal difference that RSB makes. As a co-owner, he has put a great deal of his heart into the gym and is thankful for all of the success stories that he often hears about. As a patient and like many others, RSB literally changed his life, and he is incredibly grateful.
Adrian Owens, a Pensacola, Florida native, has lived in Pooler for about two years. He and his wife Barbara moved in order to be close to their daughter Cindy, who has lived in Pooler for some time now. Adrian retired from Reichold Chemical Company in Pensacola after 40 years of service as a master mechanic. He was diagnosed with Parkinson’s about five years ago. Over a period of time prior to his diagnosis, Barbara and others noticed that Adrian was getting around very differently. Barbara noticed changes in his movement and muscle activity. She knew something was very wrong.
Barbara remarks, “Everything was in slow motion.” Additionally, Adrian had problems with his balance at times.
Barbara goes on to explain that most patients have the disease for a long time before their diagnosis, but they “just don’t realize what is happening.” Adrian later adds, “I probably had it three or four years before I even knew I had it.” He says that the things that would take an average person one or two weeks to complete would take him “three, four or five weeks.”
Though there are no medications to completely treat Parkinson’s, Adrian and his family found a priceless treasure—RSB. They had heard of a Parkinson’s support group being held downtown. While they were in attendance, Cindy recognized Dennis, a fellow church member. He told the family about the program. Adrian has been a willing participant for about six months. Even Barbara and Cindy take time to participate with him; they make it a family affair. They were all amazed at the results, as they observed and compared Adrian’s performance and behavior over time.
Barbara states, “We were looking to get a wheelchair at the time, and we were amazed at how quickly it got better. It’s made a vast difference in him. This is a great thing here.”
Cindy adds, “This has helped more than anything we’ve tried.” Barbara and Cindy wish that they would have known about such an outstanding program three or four years ago.
Adrian works out three times each week. Even his neurologist was in awe at the positive changes she noticed in his performance during some of his physical examinations.
Unfortunately, Adrian recently suffered a fall which caused a compression fracture in his back. Still, one week before his injury, he visited his neurologist, who was astonished at his continued progress.
Barbara asserts, “She was just amazed at the difference in him in six months since coming here and doing this exercising.”
Barbara reflects on Adrian’s mobility prior to his injury. “He was getting up without help. Everything was so much better. His balance was better. He was sitting up straighter. He could pull himself up from the floor with the weights. It’s getting better again. If he hadn’t been doing the RSB when he fell this last time, I’m not sure if he would’ve ever gotten back up again.”
The injury hindered his progress for just a little while, but Adrian is getting back into the swing of things, especially with the help of his devoted wife who has not only worked out with him all this time but has also been there to help him get around. It is obvious that the workouts are doing a lot of good for both of them.
Adrian jokes, “She’s stronger than me now.”
Adrian is inspired by individuals who have the disease; however, no one can tell by looking at their demeanor or performance in the gym. He aspires to become one of those people and is diligently striving to accomplish that feat.
When he is not punching away at Parkinson’s, Adrian enjoys a few good programs on the tube, especially old westerns like Gunsmoke. He is also a big NCIS fan.
Adrian Owens refuses to let Parkinson’s define who he is. He is very thankful to have such a caring and committed family. He, too, appreciates all of the outstanding efforts of the team at Rock Steady Boxing. In addition, “spreading the word” about RSB to other individuals who are dealing with Parkinson’s is very important to him. In his own words, “It works; try it. You’ll like it.”