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Slow and steady: Rock Steady Boxing making waves in the Parkinson's community

Chris Risbrudt stares down his target during a Rock Steady Boxing class at the Nelson Wellness Center in Grand Arbor. (Jared Rubado / Echo Press) 1 / 3
Bruce Frederickson throws a jab into the bag during the Rock Steady Boxing class at the Nelson Wellness Center in Grand Arbor. (Jared Rubado / Echo Press)2 / 3
Lori Meissner coaches her Rock Steady Boxing class at the Nelson Wellness Center in Grand Arbor. (Jared Rubado / Echo Press)3 / 3

On Thursday mornings, Chris Risbrudt and Bruce Frederikson lace up a pair of boxing gloves. With the help of their coaches, they throw sequenced punches with up to 10 other people in the Nelson Wellness Center at Grand Arbor.

Risbrudt and Frederikson aren't training for an upcoming prize fight. They are training to extend the quality of their lives.

Rock Steady Boxing is a non-profit national organization that focuses on people with Parkinson's disease. The exercises are derived from traditional boxing practices, targeting the person's speed, agility, endurance, accuracy, footwork and hand/eye coordination in a rigorous workout.

"It's been incredible. It's slowed down the progression of my Parkinson's," said Risbrudt, a Brandon-Evansville resident. "I've had it for 10 years. I've been doing a good job of keeping it from moving along. Coming here definitely helps."

How it started

The tremors of Parkinson's disease are diagnosed in 60,000 Americans each year. Ten million people worldwide live with this incurable disease. By 2020, one million people in the United States will have Parkinson's and half of them will have been diagnosed before they turned 50. Not only is there no cure, the cause is unknown. Complications from Parkinson's disease are the 14th leading cause of death in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Rock Steady Boxing was founded in 2006 by Scott Newman, a prosecutor in Indiana who was 40 years old when diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. A friend, Vince Perez, was a Golden Gloves boxer who designed a routine for Newman centered around neurological aspects of a workout. Exercise has the ability to improve cognitive functions, mental health and memory. The innovative approach inspired Newman to start a nonprofit organization to help others around the country who are struggling with the same issues.

Over the last 15 years, Rock Steady Boxing has grown into a worldwide phenomenon. Its website says it has 38,000 clients at 775 locations around the world. One of those places is the Nelson Wellness Center at Grand Arbor.

"Alexandria has a lot of efforts in this town that try to educate people about Parkinson's," trainer Lori Meissner said. "Awareness is increasing, which is so great to see. The quicker people recognize what they have, the faster they can find a treatment that works for them."

Fighting as a team

Alexandria's classes are run by Meissner and her training partner Kayla Roske. Attendees do a series of exercises ranging in speed and power. With gloves strapped to their hands, the boxers throw quick jabs and big uppercuts into the stationary punching bag.

"It's a non-contact workout," Frederickson said. "We hit bags and throw medicine balls but we don't hit the other boxers."

Grand Arbor also has four neurofit classes tailored to people with neurological disorders, and they include many of the same exercises that Rock Steady Boxing practices.

"We have about a dozen people in this class total right now," Meissner said. "Not everybody can make it each time with appointments and stuff. And we haven't really advertised this yet. If people hear about it they're welcomed to come and check it out. There's a lot of people that don't even know we have this out here."

While Meissner and Roske keep the doors open, some patients struggle with the realization of their condition.

"I know plenty of people who have Parkinson's that don't want to admit it," Frederickson said. "The quicker people realize what they have, the quicker they can find a place to help themselves. (Rock Steady Boxing) isn't a cure, but it slows it down and it gives us exercise — moving those muscles."

For people who have found Rock Steady Boxing, it isn't the first place they have turned to try and get help.

"I looked for help for almost 10 years," Risbrudt said. "It's about the quality of life. I am convinced that I am living a much better life right now because of this group."

Those who join Rock Steady Boxing often go in alone. However, they find themselves surrounded by people with a common goal — to get help.

"We are in this together," Risbrudt said. "I look at all of these people as friends. It's better to not fight this alone, but instead as a team."