Four times a week, 62-year-old Mary Yeamer hits the Rock Steady Boxing Gym, where she gets a good dose of Parkinson's treatment by punching bags, jumping rope and boxing with the best of them. She revels in the explosive exercise.
"I loved it right away," said Yeaman, who lives in Indianapolis. "I never did like boxing, but now, I just love it."
When Yeaman was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in October 2002, she didn't know a lot about it. After learning about Rock Steady, Yeaman said she found a great workout that increased her balance and diminished her brain fog. It also helped her build camaraderie with other Parkinson's disease patients.
After almost four years as a Rock Steady member, Yeaman often assists the trainers during classes.
"We have this dummy called 'Parky,'" said Yeaman. "And sometimes I'll see some of the newer students just giving it a little tap, and then I'll say, 'Pretend that he gave you Parkinson's,' and they just start going to town."
Rock Steady Boxing Foundation was co-founded in 2006 by Scott C. Newman, a former prosecutor and public safety director, who was diagnosed with early onset Parkinson's at age 40, and his friend and former Golden Gloves boxer Vincent Perez.
Soon after the men began their intense one-on-one no-contact training sessions, Newman saw and felt a dramatic change in his Parkinson's symptoms and overall physical health -- an ironic twist since boxing has been linked to dementia, Alzheimer's disease and even Parkinson's.
Private donations allowed Newman and Perez to open a small gym specifically for Parkinson's disease patients.
Kristy Follmer, a former professional boxer who is now the head trainer at Rock Steady, said the gym's popularity grew quickly as Newman, Perez and Follmer created specific workouts for Parkinson's patients at different levels of the illness.
Now, the gym has about 170 members, who range in age from 30 to 90. The board of directors and trainers recently relocated Rock Steady to accommodate its growing clientele.
Saturday marked the grand opening of its newest gym, a 2,400-square-foot space that is a part of Peak Performance Fitness Center, a 20,000-foot facility in Indianapolis.
"We were all made to be used to our fullest, and building this gym together is a way for us to do that," said Newman at the grand opening.
As the gym continues to grow, the trainers continue to create workouts specific to the severity of symptoms.
"We have a modified curriculum for people who need an intense regimen to those who need one-on-one attention," said 30-year-old Follmer. "We don't turn anybody away at the door. We meet at their level and do the best we can with any level of Parkinson's. We have a place for everybody."
Parkinson's disease is a motor system disorder in which patients experience tremors in the hands, arms, legs jaw and face, stiffness in their limbs and trunk, slowness in movement and impaired balance and coordination. According to the Parkinson's Disease Foundation, as many as 1 million Americans live with Parkinson's disease, and approximately 60,000 Americans are diagnosed with it each year. Parkinson's is chronic and currently has no cure.