October 15, 2018

Fight back against Parkinson’s with SIU’s Rock Steady Boxing

by Christi Mathis

CARBONDALE, Ill. — While there’s no cure for Parkinson’s disease or the tremors, unsteadiness and other physical changes that come with it, Jim Oberg and his wife, Mari Ann, were excited to hear about a program near their winter home that has been proven to slow or perhaps even reverse the Parkinson’s progression.

They observed a class in Gulf Shores, Ala., decided it was worth a try, and are quite glad they did. Now, they’re even happier that the program is coming to Southern Illinois University Carbondale and anyone can participate.

You can learn more about SIU’s Rock Steady program at a free open house, set for 10-11 a.m. on Oct. 18 at the Student Recreation Center, 300 E. Grand Ave, Carbondale.

Rock Steady Boxing helps slow progression of Parkinson’s

The Parkinson’s Disease Foundation estimates that more than one million people in the United States have Parkinson’s Disease, with about 60,000 new diagnoses each year.

Rock Steady Boxing, an Indianapolis-based non-profit organization and its program, utilizes specific types of exercise that have been proven to be neuro-protective, actually slowing the progression of the disease. The emphasis is on gross motor movement, balance, core strength and rhythm and the result is improved quality of life as range of motion, flexibility, posture and gait show a favorable impact.

Open house Oct. 18

People attending the open house will get to meet the certified trainers, see the center’s facilities, and learn about the program and its benefits, including the cost to join. The non-contact boxing fitness program designed to improve the lives of people diagnosed with Parkinson’s is open to anyone with the disease.

It works

Jim was diagnosed with the progressive, debilitating disease about 10 years ago. He and Mari Ann weren’t sure what to expect as he began attending hour-long classes three times a week.

“There are many ways that I benefitted from the Rock Steady class, especially with regard to balance, strength, coordination and flexibility,” Jim Oberg said. “I always use a cane but rarely felt the need in class to use it.”

Oberg’s experience is not unusual. 
“It was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen,” Mari Ann said. “People would come in shaking so hard they could barely walk and you could just see them gaining control as they did the program – stretching, boxing and cool down. To see them gain strength, coordination and agility was wonderful. One lady said she couldn’t even turn over in bed before, but now she can.”

Program features peer support

 “A very large part of the Rock Steady program was the support of group members,” Jim said. “Overall, it was rewarding to work together with others to combat physical and emotional aspects that PD patients deal with on a daily basis.”

Although friends and family members are welcome to stay for the class and lend a hand as needed, class participants also work with the punching bags independently or working together, with one holding the bag for another. For the vast majority of the classmates, the boxing is a new experience, something they’ve never done before.

“Like with any illness, you feel so helpless and alone, but this program is so supportive,” Mari Ann said. “People feel a camaraderie with other people going through what they are going through and trying things they wouldn’t try on their own, and you see them develop positive attitudes and realize ‘I can do stuff I didn’t think I could do’.”

Bringing Rock Steady home

After a couple of winter months in Alabama, the Obergs returned to their Carbondale home, but realized they were missing the program and benefits reaped from it.

Their son, Erik Oberg, is the Underway Adventures program coordinator for SIU’s Touch of Nature Environmental Center and he mentioned the program and its benefits to Sally Wright, assistant director of facilities for the university’s Recreational Sports and Services. Wright did some research and quickly went about trying to find a way to bring Rock Steady to Southern Illinois.

Staff specially trained

Thanks to a mini-grant from Southern Illinois Healthcare, two Student Recreation Center staff members attended an intensive two-day training and certification course for the program, which has affiliates around the world. SIU’s SRC is now a recognized Rock Steady Boxing affiliate and beginning in November, will offer the empowering program two times weekly.

Valuable for all levels

Wright and the Obergs note that the classes are beneficial to all, regardless of health, disease progression or overall experience with boxing or fitness programs.

“Even though the class was high-intensity repetitious interval training, I felt comfortable with the fact that I could move at my own pace and level of mobility,” Jim Oberg said.

Mari Ann said she noticed progress for every participant in the class.

“We saw people of all levels, from some that could hardly move the bags to others that had a really strong punch, but everyone benefitted,” Mari Ann, added. She noted that as participants got tired and sat down, they could continue boxing even as they rested.

Accessible location and free parking for Rock Steady open house

The SIU open house will be in the Alumni Lounge, on the second floor of the Student Recreation Center.

There are a limited number of handicapped parking spots off Mill Street at the north entrance. Participants can also park in any of the regular spots and access the lounge via elevator or stairs, or park across the street from the SRC in the Grand Avenue parking lot and enter on the lounge level.

For more information, contact Sally Wright, associate director of programs, at 618/453-2511 or wright1@siu.edu