Rock Steady Provides One-Two Punch to Fight Parkinson’s


photos by Cole Crush

Rock Steady Boxing provides techniques for decreasing and reversing the debilitating effects of Parkinson’s disease.

Matt Gadd, Editor in Chief

Parkinson’s disease and boxing don’t seem to be an ideal combination.  Usually people think of boxers, like Muhammad Ali, whose bodies have been ravaged by this illness. But at St. John Paul II Parish boxing helps fight the effects of Parkinson’s disease.  Trinity alumni and former faculty members are major contributors to the success of Rock Steady Boxing, which uses a unique approach to controlling and reversing the debilitating impact of Parkinson’s.

Rock Steady Boxing began the Parkinson’s boxing treatment in Indianapolis, and it now has more than 650 affiliates around the world involving more than 34,000 people. Parkinson’s disease is a degenerative disorder that affects the central nervous system, and it makes movement difficult, also causing stiffness and tremors.

Mr. Joe Bryant, a 38-year Trinity teacher who recently retired, has volunteered with Rock Steady Boxing at St. John Paul II for the past three months. Bryant originally got involved because brother-in-law Mr. Bob Wentzel uses this program to treat his Parkinson’s.

Bryant is a big believer in the program. He said, “I have definitely seen the progress and my brother-in-law has gotten better from this.”

Of the benefits of this type of treatment, Bryant said, “It’s all about movement.” Former teachers Mr. John Esterle and Mr. Wayne Metcalf also take part in the treatment.

Physical activity counters Parkinson’s, helping to slow the degenerative effects.  An lack of neurotransmitter dopamine causes Parkinson’s. These neurotransmitters send chemical messages in the nervous system, and when they don’t send the proper number of messengers, it causes serious issues that disrupt the whole body. Despite millions of dollars used for research, there is no known cure for the disease that afflicts more than 10 million people.  

It gets people out of the house and keeps them active. It is not only for exercise, but it is like a social activity.”

— Mr. Steve Walsh, Trinity Class of 1971

Every Monday and Wednesday at John Paul II at 9:30 and 11 a.m. in the annex, strides are being made to fight the effects of this disease. A boxing ring, weights, punching bags and other exercise stations fill the room. Participants start with stretches to warm up.

Mr. Eric Richardson, a Rock Steady Boxing certified trainer, calls out a stretch, and the class of more than 25 follows along. Richardson has been working with people who have Parkinson’s for more than seven years, holding 10 classes a week.

Constant joking and poking fun keep the room engulfed in laughter. After stretches are complete, participants go to separate stations.

These stations include sword fighting with rubber noodles, hula hooping, punching bags, a speed bag, sparing, and even lifting weights. They do each activity for one minute and take a 30-second rest. No matter how advanced their symptoms are, all can participate.

“People who can barely walk, can still do intensive exercises – slowing down the deterioration from Parkinson’s,” said Richardson, who emphasized starting activities as soon as one is diagnosed.

Husband and wife Doug and Ann Pifer founded the Louisville branch. Doug was diagnosed with Parkinson’s about five years ago. He was taking a similar class in Evansville, but he wanted to bring Rock Steady closer to his home. When he started the program, more than 40 people initially signed up. More than 50 take part now.

Ms. Susan Kute, a good friend of Doug Pifer, has noticed his progress. Kute said, “Doug is better now than when he was first diagnosed. Doug credits boxing with keeping him healthy.”

While there are many other Rock Steady Boxing affiliates, this one is unique because it is free. Other programs can cost more than $1,000.  The St. John Paul II branch offers free treatment through donations, a fundraising event and a grant from The Parkinson’s Association. St. John Paul II donates space to the program.

The fundraiser, TKO Parkinson’s, will take place Sept. 22 at 4501 Progress Blvd. (502-817-8351). A family day at a huge farm, the event includes more than 100 activities, including inflatables, canoeing, food and many more fun events. All proceeds go to the program.

According to Mr. Steve Walsh, Trinity Class of 1971, the benefits of the Rock Steady Boxing treatment are not only physical. Walsh, who suffers from Parkinson’s, said, “It gets people out of the house and keeps them active. It is not only for exercise, but it is like a social activity.”

According to Walsh, some people after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s experience the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and finally acceptance, which moves them toward treatment.

Walsh said, “People from all over Louisville, no matter their symptoms or skill level, come together for a fun, competitive way to exercise in a no-commitment environment where everyone is supportive.”

For more information, contact:

Parkinson’s Support Center of Kentuckiana – Embracing a Future with Hope

315 Townepark Circle, Suite 100

Louisville, KY 40243-2338

Office 502-254-3388

[email protected]

Facebook………… tkoparkinson’s


Videos…………….Mr. Joe Bryant and Mr. Bob Wentzel………..Mr. Eric Richardson…….  Mr. Steve Walsh……………………………videos by Cole Crush