Protect Yourself: Boxing Lessons and Other Learnings from the Newly Diagnosed

Woman with Parkinson's boxes to improve quality of life

Written by Gretchen Rosswurm

“Jab, touch your face. Right, touch your face.”

My heart is racing as I connect with my coach’s mitts.

He reminds me, “Keep your hands up.” He demonstrates by holding his hands close to his cheekbones, chin down, protecting his face, eyes intent on me.

I mimic him bringing my gloved hands up, covering my cheek bones and lower face, chin tucked low.

This is what boxers do: they protect themselves with every punch.

We start the drill again. “Right. Hook. Right.” I follow the combination.

I notice my right hand. It’s lagging behind the left hand, slow and a bit off target, especially on the hook. The right hand is trembling inside my boxing glove. I hold back the urge to cry. “Keep moving,” I tell myself.

Gretchen Rosswurm2

Almost a year ago, I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s. I didn’t believe the first diagnosis. I’m one of the healthiest people I know, but Parkinson’s can be a silent and slow disease.

A few things had seemed strange over the last two years. For example, a chronically sore right thumb and a frustrating slowness in the same hand when I shook a salt shaker. The worst was my handwriting. Once flowing and artistic, now it’s often tiny, cramped, sometimes impossible to read.

I ignored these odd symptoms, not even telling my dear husband that something wasn’t right. Deep down I was terrified it was something I knew all too well. Parkinson’s has been a shadow over my family for several generations affecting my sister, mother and grandparents.

I saw a second neurologist a month later with a specialization in movement disorders such as Parkinson’s. After an hour of physical tests such as walking on my toes and heels, pinching my fingers together furiously and assessing the strength in my feet, legs and arms, he confirmed that I have Parkinson’s.

As we wrapped up the appointment, he told me the five things I needed to do without fail to fight against Parkinson’s: sleep, exercise, manage stress, eat clean and take my medicine.

And then he mentioned boxing.

Boxing, really?

Yes, really.

Gretchen Rosswurm1

The first weeks after the diagnosis I acted as if all were fine, but on the inside I was hollowed out, sleepless, waking before dawn with sheets of icy water slipping through my stomach.

I needed to take action before Parkinson’s took control.

I focused on my doctor’s advice and started taking the medicine he prescribed and exercising daily. Vigorous exercise is one of the most effective actions we can take to slow the progression of Parkinson’s and retain physical and mental capacity.

I also started boxing.

A week after my diagnosis, my husband and I were in the boxing gym. I felt like I’d landed in Oz, but it didn’t take long to feel welcome and see how valuable boxing is for the brain and body. It builds strength, stamina, balance, coordination, mental acuity and empowerment.

Am I glad I have Parkinson’s? Never. But I choose to focus on the good stuff. I am here, I am well and I am committed to protecting myself against Parkinson’s every day. I am a fighter.

Many thanks to my encouraging husband, Doug, and our coach and friend Hector at Sweat Gym in Irving, TX. Rock Steady Boxing is an international boxing program specifically for people with Parkinson’s.

And remember — keep your hands up.

Get More Ideas for Living Well with Parkinson’s

Much more can be found in a powerful new edition of Davis Phinney Foundation’s free Every Victory Counts® manual. The Every Victory Counts® manual gives people living with Parkinson’s, their care partners and their family members the tools they need to take control of their own Parkinson’s treatment through a proactive approach to self-care.

It’s jam-packed with up-to-date information about everything Parkinson’s, plus an expanded worksheets and resources section to help you put what you’ve learned into action. Color coding and engaging graphics help guide you through the written material and point you to complementary videos, podcasts and other materials on the Every Victory Counts companion website. And, it is still free of charge thanks to the generosity of our sponsors.

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