FORT WAYNE – In this corner a chronic, progressive disease with no cure.
And in this corner hope.
Hope in this case is embodied by a slight, older man, his sweatpants covering his skinny legs and perhaps pulled up a bit too far, his back a little hunched. His name is Jim Montgomery, and his skinny arms are beating the crap out of a heavy bag.
In this gym, he goes by Monty. He’s 86 years old, and he doesn’t stop pounding the bag until the instructor yells Time!
The heavy bag – hanging from the rafters in the basement of Lutheran Life Villages – represents Parkinson’s disease, the debilitating condition affecting all eight of the boxers sweating beneath a poster of Muhammad Ali glowering over a defeated Sonny Liston, daring him to get back up and fight. When Monty leans into the heavy bag, he’s finally able to fight back against the disease that’s been punishing him for more than a decade.
I just kinda enjoy beatin’ that bag, he says with a grin during a break. It’s not really boxing, but it’s good exercise.
That’s the point of Rock Steady Boxing, says Tim Imler, executive director of Lutheran Life Villages Foundation. It’s a boxing-like program – there’s no contact – of intense workouts that lets people with Parkinson’s do something about their condition.
Even better? It seems to be working.
There’s no cure for Parkinson’s, which causes tremors, rigidity, slowness and impaired balance. But intense exercise seems to slow the disease and lessen the symptoms. The participants in Lutheran Life Village’s program, which began three weeks ago, say they can already see the difference.
Jim Rinkenberger isn’t the boxing type: As a junior in high school, he was boxing with a friend and nearly knocked the boy out.
I vowed I would never fight anyone again, Rinkenberger says.
But fighting Parkinson’s is another matter.
I look forward to it, every meeting, he says.
His wife, Jeanne, helps him with the water bottle – they’re particularly difficult to work with boxing gloves on – and says she can see the difference the program is making.
It definitely builds stamina, she says. We worked all day outside yesterday, and he didn’t get tired.
Rinkenberger said he loves the enthusiasm and camaraderie of the program. Exercise by itself can be boring, he says. But with boxing, you use a lot of muscles you wouldn’t normally.
Among the participants is Imler. Now 51, Imler – his boxing nickname is Timler – was diagnosed with Parkinson’s about four years ago. Then about a year ago, he heard about the Rock Steady Boxing program, which started in Indianapolis in 2006 by former Marion County Prosecutor Scott C. Newman, who has Parkinson’s.
It’s an aggressive sport where you can take your aggressions out, Imler said. It’s a great way to relieve stress, anger or anything else.
It also gives people with Parkinson’s a way to do something about it.
Imagine going to the doctor, and here’s a diagnosis of a terminal illness, here’s a pill and the number of a support group, says Racheal Dettling, the instructor leading the class. How powerless would that make you feel? This changes that. Now they finally feel like they can do something, like they can fight back.
Imler said after seeing Rock Steady Boxing in person in Indianapolis, he knew it was something he wanted to bring to Fort Wayne. It fits with Lutheran Life Village’s mission to serve and is badly needed in northeast Indiana, he said. Imler and three other staffers were trained as instructors and held the first session about three weeks ago.
It’s really for the people in the community, he said. You don’t have to be a Lutheran Life resident; you don’t have to be Christian or Lutheran. If you have Parkinson’s and want to be part of this program, you’re welcome.
Officials took basement space that was being used for storage and turned it into a gym, complete with heavy bags, speed bags, lockers and weights. There are posters from Rocky and workout music. And there’s Dettling, shouting, Are we ready to battle?! and Who loves squats?!
The program is intense, but worth it, Imler says.
You get sore. I never boxed in my life before this, Imler says. But with this, I feel like I’m actively doing something about (Parkinson’s). I’m doing something to take control.