Those fighting Parkinson's score a knockout at boxing gym.
Going through a painful divorce 15 years ago, Michael Roy admits he was looking for a way to relieve stress.
After a suggestion from a friend, Roy walked into a Hampton, N.H., boxing gym, where he enjoyed the workout but figured it was a one-time deal. He got his frustration out, and that was it in terms of the heavy bag and ring. He went on with life.
Now 56 and living in Lakewood Ranch, Roy is back in the boxing gym, but for an entirely different reason.
Roy has been training with Jaco's Boxing & Fitness as a way to alleviate the symptoms of Parkinson's disease. Jaco's Boxing & Fitness, which opened a new gym on Lena Road in Bradenton Feb. 19, offers a special class designed by the Neuro Challenge Foundation to help those facing Parkinson's as their main opponent.
Asked about his second experience in the boxing gym, Roy became emotional.
“These are tears of joy," said Roy, who was diagnosed with the disease four years ago. "When I first got the disease, I was like, 'Why me? Why did this happen to me?' Now I know more about the disease, and it doesn't scare me. I’m so happy about my improvements. I'm not afraid."
When he first went to the boxing gym, Roy said he felt like beating someone up. This time, he said, "I feel like I'm beating up Parkinson's every time I go to class."
He isn't alone. The class usually hosts between five and 10 people fighting Parkinson's and includes those at all levels of the disease.
Greenbrook's Winifred Ellis was diagnosed with Parkinson's in 2009. She currently has problems standing, but she comes to every class.
“I went skydiving after I’d been coming here for a while," she said. "Generally speaking, this class saved my way of life.”
Jaco Boxing & Fitness instructor Jamie Jeffcoat and co-owner Mike Kelley love hearing that feedback. They lead the class through workouts that include the treadmill, doing squats, working with medicine balls and various boxing drills.
"The workouts won't stop the progress (of the disease)," Kelley said. "But it will slow it down. We've seen the changes."
In a study published in the journal Movement Disorders, the official journal of the International Parkinson's and Movement Disorder Society, exercise was found to improve the way of life for people diagnosed with Parkinson’s.
River Club's Bobby Rodgers has been diagnosed since 2010. His daughter, Jennifer Thieman, takes adult boxing classes at Jaco’s, and he said that she guilted him into coming.
“I put these boxing gloves on for the first time and I already can see the difference," Rodgers said. "The camaraderie and the friendliness are overwhelming.”
Dealing with the disease with others facing the same fight is key since many dealing with Parkinson's suffer from depression. Exercise increases the levels of dopamine in the body, and a lack of dopamine can cause depression.
Sarasota's Anne Quarles has been diagnosed since 2014, and she’s been attending the class for two months.
“I’m way stronger physically,” she said. “More importantly, I feel better emotionally. I have a buoyant feeling. My stride is longer and I find myself smiling in the middle of the class, which I have never done while exercising before.”
Roy, who before he started the class was having trouble carrying the groceries into the house or riding a bike, is now planning a trip to the Alps.
"I live in the moment and I've taken the bull by the horns," he said. "Working out (in the class) has given me my whole life back. I walk better, I talk better, and I feel better."