On a Sunday in November 2015, Bruce Gropper and his wife were going about their morning just like any other, when they were stopped in their tracks by an interesting segment that was broadcast on CBS’s “Sunday Morning” news program. Lesley Stahl’s piece on Parkinson’s disease and Rock Steady Boxing, “Fighting Back Against Parkinson’s—in the Ring,” made quite a lasting impression on the Groppers.
Since they were planning on signing the paperwork for their Right at Home office in Palm Beach later that day, Bruce and his wife felt as though they were meant to see the news story. Having been touched by Parkinson’s in their own life—Bruce’s wife’s grandfather had the disease—they agreed to get involved with the Rock Steady program once their office was up and running.
And in the three years since, the Groppers have kept their promise.
Bringing Rock Steady Boxing to Palm Beach, Florida
After learning about the Rock Steady Boxing program on “Sunday Morning,” Bruce was motivated to act. Bruce tracked down a local trainer who had gone through the Rock Steady training program in Indianapolis, and then he pitched the program to a local boxing gym, which agreed to donate space for the program a few times a week.
“My wife and I are pretty active in the fitness community, and I was able to coordinate all these different relationships to make the program a reality for residents living with Parkinson’s here in the Palm Beach area,” says Bruce.
In the three years since Bruce has been building the Rock Steady program, it has expanded to three different gyms in three different cities: Title Boxing Gyms in both Palm Beach Gardens and Jupiter, as well as Beyond Fitness in Delray. Bruce also takes the program to Mangrove Bay, an assisted living community, on Thursdays to help those who are unable to make it to the classes at the gym.
“I’ve seen incredible results in people at various stages of the disease, from early on in the disease’s progression to people in wheelchairs,” says Bruce “Everyone has positive feedback about the effects of the program.”
The Benefits of Boxing With Parkinson’s Disease
It’s hard not to think about Parkinson’s disease without thinking about famous boxer Muhammad Ali, who passed away in 2016. While many might think that boxing would have a negative impact on the progression of the disease, research suggests otherwise, especially since the Rock Steady training does not include contact with anything other than a heavy bag or focus mitts.
“Parkinson’s affects balance, memory and coordination—all things that boxing helps improve,” Bruce explains. “Boxing also helps with agility, strength and coordination. It’s really amazing.”
Parkinson’s disease is a neurodegenerative disorder that affects movements throughout the body. In addition to experiencing tremors, people with Parkinson’s can experience a deterioration of speech, motor skills, sensory function and balance.
There are currently 540 Rock Steady Boxing programs throughout the country, which train an estimated 27,000 people living with the disease. Many of them report feeling better since participating in the program and have been able to improve their symptoms outside the gym.
In fact, Dr. Stephanie Combs-Miller and her team of researchers at the University of Indianapolis included Rock Steady Boxing participants in a study published in 2011. Dr. Combs-Miller found that “after 12 weeks of training, there were measurable improvements in gait, balance and quality of life.”
Beyond Boxing: Creating Community
Bruce believes that one of the biggest attributes of the Rock Steady Boxing partnership is the greater sense of community that everyone feels when they get involved.
“The community aspect is fantastic,” Bruce says. “The program is like a support group for everyone. They all do challenging exercises together and cheer each other on. It’s a really high-energy, positive environment.”
The Groppers are proud of the program and plan to spread the word about it to the wider community during an Open House at Title Boxing Gym in Palm Beach Gardens from 1 to 4 p.m. on World Parkinson’s Day (April 11).
In addition to providing information about the benefits of fighting Parkinson’s disease with boxing exercise, trainers will be offering a free class from 2 to 3 p.m. for those interested in trying out the high-intensity exercises. Classes are open to everyone, not just those who have been diagnosed with Parkinson’s.
“The program has helped both myself and caregivers better understand the disease,” says Bruce. “Some of the exercises can be done at home. It’s engaging and incredibly beneficial to everyone touched by Parkinson’s.”