Put your dukes up.
That’s what Maureen Hafstein, Dorothy Bird and Cheryl Ogloff are saying to Parkinson’s Disease.
On Monday, the trio started their first boxing class with coach Peggy Maerz to combat the symptoms of their disease at the Bulldog Boxing Club.
“It’s all Maureen’s fault,” jokes Bird, before the start of the practice about how they ended up at a boxing class.
Many recent studies have shown the effectiveness of aerobic exercise on strength, flexibility and balance, which improves Parkinson’s symptoms and creates a sense of well-being.
Today, there are many dance and boxing classes being developed for those with Parkinson’s.
Hafstein’s acupuncturist Donna Rasplica, suggested she look at Rock Steady Boxing, a club in Indiana that specializes in non-contact, boxing-based fitness for those with Parkinson’s for inspiration.
That inspiration led Hafstein to Maerz.
“Maureen contacted me about running the program, and it was perfect timing as I had just learned about clubs doing this sort of thing from a friend in the States,” said Maerz.
“This is exactly why I started this club with inclusivity in mind – to show people this sport is doable for anyone if they are just accommodated for.”
For the following 12 weeks, the trio will be put through their paces once a week working through warm-ups to hitting the bag, to working their core on the floor.
“My goal is to see them on bikes by the end of the summer,” says Maerz confidently.
After the 12 weeks, they will evaluate whether they stay on a once-a-week regime or up it to a couple of times a week.
The trio was undeniably nervous before their first session, but Maerz’s encouraging and compassionate coaching style quickly allowed Hafstein, Bird and Ogloff to breeze through the class.
After 10 minutes of active stretching and warm up exercises, they were loosened up for work on the bags.
“We need to put a big letter “P” for Parkinson’s on these bags,” exclaimed Hafstein eagerly before doling out the punches.
Maerz expertly guided the trio through a 25-minute session working on upper cuts, hooks, jabs and straight punches.
Working on the bag and counting out the punches as they went was beneficial for body and mind. Because Parkinson’s is a neuro-degenerative disease it is also important to give the brain a workout.
Movement is normally controlled by dopamine, a chemical that carries signals between the nerves in the brain. When cells that normally produce dopamine die, the symptoms of Parkinson’s appear. Research has shown brain cells use dopamine more efficiently in people who exercise regularly, helping to ease symptoms.
Each one of the trio has specific goals they want to achieve through the class.
Ogloff wants to increase her overall fitness and confidence, while Bird would like to increase her flexibility and balance, and Hafstein says she wants to feel more relaxed and normal.
“If you’re not staying active you feel like everything is seizing and you feel like your collapsing in on yourself. I hope boxing will help me to feel more open and normal like before,” explained Hafstein.
Between working the bags and working their core, they took a break to regroup and open up about their emotions. Maerz explained to the women “this is the one place that is about you.”
After the inspirational hour-long session each woman stood more confidently, their posture had improved, and you couldn’t wipe the smiles off their faces.
“Watching their demeanour change in just an hour alone is so exciting,” said Maerz.
“To see the smiles on their faces and the sweat rolling down their forehead as they were working on the bags – this is why I love what I do.”
Though tired, the women remained enthusiastic and excited about the next class. They were quick to thank Maerz.
“Everything we heard about Peggy has been true. She is genuine, caring and encouraging,” said Bird.
“These women are very special, they are coming from a vulnerable place and to see the strides they made in just one class is remarkable,” said Maerz.
The boxing class will not cure their Parkinson’s, but it will help to slow down the progression and severity of the disease, the same purpose of medication.
“We are each on our own journey,” says Ogloff with a wide smile.