By Kyle Reid
People battling the disease say they are seeing the benefits after taking up boxing
Boxfit instructor Carrie Hayward enjoys taking the time to joke with her trainees while catching a break from yelling punch combinations.
“Easter’s here, I’ve got to get you all in shape before the bunny gets here,” shouts Hayward.
Every Wednesday morning at Boxfit on Topsail Road in Mount Pearl, Hayward hosts a group of contenders who are waging their own personal fights against Parkinson’s Disease. In partnership with the St. John’s chapter of the Newfoundland and Labrador Parksinson’s Society, the group has taken up boxing as a way of reducing the symptoms of the progressive neurodegenerative disorder. The class is just one of the many exercise classes organized and offered by the Parkinson’s Society, but it may be one of the most physically demanding programs.
“I was a little apprehensive when I came in at first,” said group member Brendan Mullaly. “I wasn’t sure I could keep up with the pace, but (Hayward) tailored the program to individual needs and I can see a big improvement.”
The boxing boot-camp shapes each participant’s reaction time, hand-eye coordination, cardiovascular fitness, flexibility, strength and balance — all useful skills for people with Parkinson’s. For Hayward, training the small group is a charge inspired by her own personal experience with the disorder.
“My Nan had Parkinson’s,” said Hayward. “She deteriorated faster. I like to bring hope to people when they get diagnosed — that they can work through things and with focus and a good structured program you can work through (things) and make yourself better.”
Hayward said the program began shortly after she was approached by members of the Parkinson’s Society over a year ago. The members expressed interest in initiating a boxing program tailored for people with Parkinson’s similar to a successful program in Florida. Her brother, Jason Hayward, originally began training the small group of seven members, but as the group grew to over 20 people, Hayward took charge of the workout to help them continue the fight.
And while the workout may be intense, according to Newfoundland and Labrador Parkinson’s Society CEO and Executive Director Derek Staubitzer, research indicates that physical activity can improve physical symptoms associated with Parksinson’s as well as slow the progression of the disorder.
Group member Robert Emberley is a long-time Mount Pearl resident and hobbyist city historian. Sporting a solid left hook, Emberley is one of the Parkinson’s Society members responsible for initiating the program — a program he speaks very highly of.
“I’m on Facebook with Parkinson’s people around the world and nobody can say that they’re getting better,” said Emberley. “Nobody gets better with Parkinson’s, but in our group everybody is improving — everybody.”
Besides the physical improvements that Emberley and the other group members have noticed, Emberley said the classes are socially and mentally beneficial for people living with the disease. Emberley said that because of the physical tremors and difficulty controlling movements that are associated with Parkinson’s, some people with the disorder tend to retreat and socially isolate themselves.
“It’s the positive attitude and the exercise,” said Emberley when asked why he feels the classes have helped him. “The biggest thing is a sense of community.”
The workout regime doesn’t pull any punches, but, for some, the fast pace and physical challenge is exactly what they need in an exercise program tailored for people living with a disorder that typically affects older individuals.
“When you become part of the Parkinson’s Society, it’s difficult to find a challenge,” said group member Jim Floyd. “You could go to the exercise class at the Miller Centre, and it’s just sort of people wiggling their fingers. It’s very disheartening...I wanted to put some meat on my bones, I wanted to work out.”
For every participant, the classes offer an opportunity to help manage the disorder as well as learn a new skill and have fun while doing so.
“My wife comes with me as well,” said Mullaly. “She’s kind of my support person; she goes to all of the exercise classes with me. It’s been really good, because sometimes we’ll do stuff at home that helps. We’ll go for walks, but sometimes we’ll put on the boxing gloves and just have a bit of fun.”