Health

Rock Steady boxing program improving symptoms of Parkinson's patients

Knocking out Parkinson's disease

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - Less than a year after putting on their boxing gloves, some Parkinson's patients are starting to see bonafide results from the "Rock Steady" Boxing program offered at Paragon Academy in Santa Barbara.

NewsChannel 3 profiled the class in July, 2016 and promised to revisit the story in several months to review the participant's progress.

At the beginning of the program, Parkinson's boxing students were videotaped to demonstrate their current level of agility, balance and flexibility. 

Several months later after taking the boxing class consistently, they were videotaped again and in many cases the results were dramatic.

In the initial video assessment, a Parkinson's boxer named Karl is asked to walk while balancing on a white line. His hand is shaking wildly, he is struggling to balance and throws his arms overhead to stay upright. Months later, in the follow-up assessment, Karl walks with ease on the white line, steadily putting one foot in front of the other, while his hand trembles less noticeably by his side.

In another initial assessment, a Parkinson's boxer named Tony is asked to take a step over a small stool. He hesitates for quite some time before slowly, lifting one foot over. Then he stops unable to lift the back foot to meet the front foot. Several months later, Tony is recorded quickly and easily stepping over the stool without assistance or hesitation.

Coaches Angie Ruccio, Joe Pommier, and Aaron Mendoza take their students, in various stages of the disease, through a rigorous workout three days a week. While, boxing is at the core of the program--stretching weights and yoga are also incorporated.

All three coaches are certified "Rock Steady" boxing instructors. The program was started in 2006 in Indiana, by Parkinson's patient and former prosecutor Scott Newman. The program offers a non-contact form of boxing targeting people with Parkinson's, a degenerative central nervous system disorder that mainly affects motor functions and for which there is no cure.

As many as 1 million people in the United States currently are diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, and more than 60,000 are diagnosed each year, according to the Parkinson's Disease Foundation.

Ruccio said besides an improvement in motor skills, her students are standing taller and are more confident.

"I think the most amazing thing we've seen is just how happy they are," she said. "A lot of them started with not much expression in their face. We see smiles. We see happiness in their eyes."

After watching the before and after videos, Ruccio couldn't believe her eyes. "I was crying," she said. "It was really amazing."

Ruccio wants to spread the word and get more people with Parkinson's to come to class. "There's no denying it," she said. "This is working."

The Rock Steady boxing program is offered at Paragon Academy on Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m.

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