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Patients step into boxing ring to battle it out against Parkinson’s

By Mike Anderson, KSL TV | Posted - Apr 7th, 2019 @ 7:03pm

LOGAN — One organization is helping people across Utah step into the ring to fight for their lives — but it’s not in the way you might think.

The sport of boxing is helping people take their power back against Parkinson’s disease, and Rock Steady Boxing is certifying people to help with that effort.

Marlene Skinner was diagnosed with Parkinson’s almost seven years ago.

“It’s very intimidating for me to walk in that door because I’d never been in a boxing gym before,” she said.

She did it, though. She overcame her fear and worked one-on-one with career boxing coach Ryan Gregory to help take control of the disease.

“This way I’m improving lives and not hurting anyone,” Gregory said with a laugh. “It’s meant a lot to me — more than I thought.”

Like Skinner, Rock Steady Boxing is something Gregory never imagined would become such a big part of his life.

“I really believe in this program now,” he said.

When Skinner came to the gym nine months ago, she had struggles.

“Literally, it hurt to eat,” she said. “I couldn’t lift my arm up to eat, so having that gone has been one of the best things ever.”

Now she can back step, side step and a whole lot more.

“I can walk better, talk better,” she said. “I feel better.”

Just down the road at AquaWorx Physical Therapy, Cassie Webster leads a group of 10 people who are pushing their limits. They’re finding they still have some fight in them.

“We don’t take it easy on them,” Webster said smiling. “They don’t feel like patients. They feel like boxers.”

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Boxers like Doug Poole, who has been sparring with Parkinson’s for 10 years.

“Yeah, anything’s hard for me,” Poole laughed.

He said his time at AquaWorx is paying off.

“It’s a battle, but here it feels easier to fight because you got people around you,” he said.

That’s what these fighters learn. It takes commitment to fight against Parkinson’s.

The boxing helps them focus and the exercises help them sleep well, something that doesn’t always come easy for Parkinson’s patients.

“It’s not a joke, and it’s not a tiptoe through the tulips,” said another boxer, Susan Madsen. “It’s hard work.”

Rock Steady Boxing, based in Indiana, now certifies trainers all over the country, including across Utah.

We don’t take it easy on them. They don’t feel like patients. They feel like boxers.

–Cassie Webster, Aquaworx Physical Therapy

On March 30, Skinner said her progress took her somewhere she’s not sure anyone else in the program has been before: an MMA ring.

Stepping into the ring in front of hundreds of people at a match streamed online, Skinner showed off her moves during the intermission.

“That’s the first time I’ve ever been to an MMA fight!” she laughed.

The crowd’s reaction — cheers and roaring applause — was perhaps the best kind of validation.

“It was good,” Skinner said.

While each of these people has to live with Parkinson’s, they can still show it who’s boss.

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