GULF SHORES — For five years, Wheeles Karate Academy has been the place for people battling Parkinson's to band together and fight back against their disease through the Rock Steady Boxing …
GULF SHORES — For five years, Wheeles Karate Academy has been the place for people battling Parkinson's to band together and fight back against their disease through the Rock Steady Boxing program.
Last Wednesday morning, July 27, Rock Steady Boxing – Gulf Shores hosted a public workout to celebrate its fifth anniversary.
The nationwide program features an exercise regimen designed to help improve the mobility, balance and strength of people fighting Parkinson's through stretching and no-contact boxing. More than that though, it provides aid for people going through the same thing.
"At the end of the day, it's a support group," said Gary Ellis, the recently retired director of community relations for Gulf State Park.
"The camaraderie and the social aspect of it is better and the sense of community is huge. We all support each other and that's part of the magic, you could go box anywhere or you could do a lot of other things but the combination of being in a friendly, hospitable environment is awesome."
Ellis was part of the reason why Rock Steady Boxing came to Gulf Shores five years ago in the first place.
"We had known each other through the community, he knew I had a gym and a facility and that was about all he knew," Chris Wheeles, owner of the dojo, said of Ellis. "So, we met, and it took a couple, two or three times for him to talk me into it because he never told me he had Parkinson's. But once he told me he has Parkinson's we signed up and started it and I never expected it would grow into something like this, that it would reach this far into the community."
Once it was established, it provided a new opportunity in a new location for Tom and Jerry Marie Brown who moved to Gulf Shores just five years ago. Tom was diagnosed in 2012 and had been doing a different program in Atlanta but Jerry Marie eventually got involved in the Gulf Shores program and is now both a caregiver and a certified trainer at the Rock Steady Boxing classes.
"To him, this is like a job. Our Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 11 o'clock, this is where we're going to be. Everything else we have to do is scheduled for Tuesday and Thursday," Jerry Marie said. "Even if he doesn't have a really good day, he knows the physical activity will make him feel better. Plus, he's around other people that have the same issues he does so they talk amongst themselves about doctors and medications and the activities that they can do and can't do."
As far as the results of the workouts, Wheeles said, "The proof is in the pudding."
"I've been around other people with Parkinson's that are not addressing it head on and their quality of life is going quicker than mine," Ellis said. "There's a lot of evidence that suggests that you have some things within your control to address your condition and circumstances. … It affects everyone a little differently, but this is one of the things you're empowered to do for yourself is to take action and keep fighting."
The "fight back" mantra isn't the only boxing term that crosses over into the battle against Parkinson's.
"It's given these guys hope. Rock Steady has a saying, 'in this corner, there's hope,'" Wheeles said. "There's four corners in a boxing ring and in this corner, there's hope so it gives them a place to go to be with other people who are fighting the same thing. They can actually feel good about themselves and can physically fight back instead of taking a pill or taking medicine. They can actively fight their disease which is pretty special."