Joey Freeman - close-up

Joey Freeman, Rock Steady Boxer and Volunteer Coach

I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2009 after developing a hand tremor and stiffness in my right arm as I walked. At the time I received my diagnosis, I was informed that my health would decline with the passage of time and that there was no cure. Initially I was stunned and then just resigned to my fate. I believed that there was nothing I could to change the course of my life.

After starting to see the reality of what my doctor told me and how my health was beginning to decline, I decided not to accept that there was nothing I could do to change my future as a person with a degenerative neurological disorder. I decided that, even with Parkinson's, I wanted to do what I could to slow and possibly reverse the physical decline that I was beginning to experience.

In October of 2013, I attended the World Parkinson’s Congress. While attending, I met a group from Rock Steady Boxing and participated in a demonstration of their high-energy and fun workout. I was immediately convinced of the benefits of this excellent program and that’s an understatement. I was excited at the possibilities. Part of the reason for that was because, in addition to the Rock Steady staff present, there were several people with Parkinson’s who had travelled from Indianapolis to Montreal to share the impact that Rock Steady had had on their lives. Both the staff and participants were extremely enthusiastic about the program and the prospect of sharing what they do with the world-wide Parkinson’s community.

At the time, I was exercising on a regular basis, but not with the intensity that the Rock Steady workout offers. During the demo, I put on a pair of boxing gloves and did a few rounds of sparring with one of the RSB staff (no head shots, they wore pads on their hands and called out instructions, “left jab, right hook” and so on). That’s all it took - I was hooked. No other exercise regime I’ve ever done, even prior to my diagnosis, offers as much fun, satisfaction and sheer intensity as the Rock Steady workout.

I have been participating in the Rock Steady Boxing program since late 2013. I experienced immediate and substantial improvements in my overall health and fitness levels and, most important to me, a reduction in the progression of my Parkinson's symptoms. My balance, gait, strength and stamina have improved greatly and my overall sense of well-being and outlook on life has been very positively affected by doing Rock Steady two to three times per week.

One of the many benefits of the Rock Steady Boxing group experience is the camaraderie, support and kinship that the program provides. It's a club-like, fun and dynamic atmosphere. There is a very strong sense that you are not alone in your fight, everyone is very supportive, and the groups are just a blast to participate in. No other exercise group I’ve participated in has left me with such a sense of positive vibes and inner happiness as RSB does. The Rock Steady Boxing program is structured into four class levels, so anyone with Parkinson's can participate, from young onset to late stage, all ages and genders.

The Rock Steady Boxing workout is categorized as ”forced or intense exercise” which to some may sound a little scary (I know it did to me at first), but in fact it’s not scary at all. When I experienced RSB sessions as a new boxer, I was amazed at how easily I could push myself and benefit from immediate improvements. I was struck by how, during my workouts, my Parkinson’s symptoms all but disappeared, which I found truly amazing, and I’m not unique in this experience with the RSB workout. Purdue University studied the impact of the Rock Steady program and they confirmed that RSB’s workout of forced exercise is one the best ways to counteract and even reverse the effects of Parkinson’s, both physically and cognitively.

I’ve met many in the program that will tell you amazing stories of how they needed a walker or other mobility device to get around and now they don’t because of RSB. Some have started participating in marathons and even mountain climbing - it's truly amazing! I strongly urge everyone, at any stage of Parkinson’s, to get involved in this life-altering program. I have no doubt that you’ll experience a definite improvement in your health and, as a bonus, you’ll be able to tell family, friends and colleagues about how now you’re a boxer, literally fighting Parkinson's (making us kind of like Parkinson’s rebels).

I want very much to share my experience with Rock Steady Boxing and help my fellow travelers with Parkinson’s. That's why, after several months of taking the training, I became a RSB coach as well. I have learned through my participation in the RSB program and through being a part of the enthusiasm and dedication of both RSB staff and participants, that there IS something we can do to live significantly better lives with Parkinson’s. As they say, “you have nothing to lose and everything to gain."


Steve Gilbert

Steve Gilbert, Rock Steady Boxer

In 2004, I was diagnosed in the early stage of aggressive prostate cancer. Later that year I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. In the following years I had double hernia repair, back surgery, and, ironically, sinus and neck surgeries – but this is not my story.

The story I want to share is one of the hope and fulfillment that followed my diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease. Five years ago I wandered into the Rock Steady Boxing gym and began a training program for people with Parkinson’s that would change my life. As a result of this training I am in the best physical (and spiritual) condition of my life. I have learned that many personal limits are self-imposed and only serve as an excuse not to push farther. I found the joy of discovering and appreciating the talents and blessings that God has given to me, and of using those gifts as a way of honoring them.

It was with my newfound fitness level that I decided to run again. Now I knew that anything was possible. Why not go for that mystical Marathon finish line? I called my brother Bruce for advice. He had run over 60 marathons, and he was thrilled. We chose the 2011 Indianapolis Monumental Marathon as our event. I took this new challenge seriously. I had a plan and a goal. I joined the Blue Mile Running Company training program, and Bruce was mentoring and encouraging me from Kansas City. My two Rock Steady Boxing Coaches and a fellow boxer from the gym were inspired to run as well. The race evolved into the first race for the “Rock Steady Road Team.”

Race morning was clear and cold as the Rock Steady team gathered well before dawn. We began our 26 mile challenge. Some of the race is a blur in my mind, but the support I had from my family, friends, and teammates remains vividly clear. We ticked off the miles slowly as my knee function declined. When we turned onto Senate Avenue and saw the 26 mile marker, 6 hours and 20 minutes after we began, the feeling of fulfillment it inspired washed away any frustrations encountered along the way. When I turned the corner and approached the finish line, the theme music from the movie “Rocky” filled the air, a special gift carefully orchestrated by my wife who had been waiting there for hours.

I wanted to run this race because I believed I could, and I wanted to celebrate and honor that potential with which I had been blessed. I wanted to give back in a small way to Rock Steady Boxing by showing the empowerment and the improvements to the quality of life Rock Steady can bring to people with Parkinson’s. I wanted to demonstrate the power of belief and persistence in achieving difficult goals. I wanted to share my joy of life with those who have made that joy possible.


Debbie Bentz

Debbie Bentz, Rock Steady Boxer

I have what?
Parkinson’s disease?
No way!

I went to the doctor’s office expecting to be told I had Carpal Tunnel, not Parkinson’s disease. What a shock! So many questions, so many thoughts, so many emotions. My head was spinning. I was scared and confused. I always thought Parkinson’s was an old person’s disease, not something that could strike a seemingly healthy 46 year-old woman.

How was this going to change my life? At the time, I was going through a divorce. My mind raced with questions: Would I be able to handle this by myself? Will I ever be able to date again? Would anyone want me? How long will it be before I get really bad? Will I still be able to work? How am I going to tell my parents their “young” daughter has Parkinson’s?

When I share with people that I have Parkinson’s they invariably say they can’t tell. But I can tell … every day, every minute of my life. I wake up feeling it and at night when my head hits the pillow I feel it. Most people take everyday tasks for granted, as I perhaps did myself, but I don’t anymore. I’m aware every morning how much time and effort it takes just to get ready for work.

My right side is my slow side, so it can be a challenge to use it sometimes, the other option being, use my left hand. Experiment with it for just one day. Use your non-dominant side and it may give you a slight idea what it’s like. Tasks that are second nature to most people can be burdensome when living with Parkinson’s. Taking a shower, blow-drying and curling your hair, brushing your teeth, getting dressed, buttoning your buttons, putting in contacts lenses (which I don’t even do now), and putting on make-up.

These everyday things take a lot of effort which ends up leaving me tired and exhausted. Remember all the times you’ve had to rush to get ready for something? With Parkinson’s, rushing is never an option. Rushing generally slows me down even more. Then there’s the drive to work, and the tasks we all do after work – typing, writing and even thinking. The thought process is sometimes lacking.

Trying to converse with others sometimes is difficult. Sometimes the words just don’t come fast enough or they can’t hear you because your voice is too soft. In the evenings when it’s time to fix dinner, it’s hard to stir things, it’s hard to take things out of the oven. It’s hard to cut food with a knife.

It’s now been eight years since I was diagnosed and Parkinson’s has not progressed as fast as my doctor predicted. Three years ago I was diagnosed with stage 1 breast cancer and had a double mastectomy. Most people would have a hard time with what I went through. But, it wasn’t so bad because breast cancer usually goes away, Parkinson’s doesn’t.

Even though there are millions of people diagnosed with Parkinson’s, sometimes you feel all alone. Rock Steady has truly been a blessing. I have met some of the most wonderful people, both fellow boxers and staff. I can go to the gym and not feel so alone. I know everyone else there have had the same challenges I have and they can relate to my situation. If I don’t go for a week or two, I can feel a difference.

What do I know for sure? Rock Steady Boxing has contributed to slowing the progression of my Parkinson’s symptoms and has taught me invaluable skills – physical and emotional – to fight back.