In February 2007, a little more than two years after my initial Parkinon’s diagnosis, My wife pointed out an article in the local paper about a new boxing program starting here in Indianapolis designed to combat the symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease. A few months later, I mustered the courage and headed out early towards the east side to find out what it was all about. Somewhat hesitantly, I walked in. A young lady in her 20’s spotted me, and with a twinkle in her eye called out to me, “Come on in. I’m Coach Kristy Rose.” For the next ninety minutes I watched a ragtag band of misfits have a ball doing some crazy things. I was no athlete, but it looked like it might be for me.
I went back two days later, boxing gear and all. Next thing I hear is, “Hey, Stevrbean. Come over here. You can do this!” I had never in my life been called Bean before. If Coach says my name is Bean, my name is Bean.
The music was loud, stuff we would tell our grandkids to turn down if we were home. Coach Rose would yell directions and encouragement (in many forms) as we encouraged and talked trash to each other. Once in a while, we just went to breakfast. The whole thing was incongruous to me—a bunch of mostly-old, mostly non-athletes going through intense boxing drills to fight back against Parkinson’s Disease. We kept coming back. It was addictive. New folks who came usually came back. The program continued to grow.
Each week I found that I was getting stronger and more confident. It was empowering. I began to feel a juvenile exuberance. I looked forward to the workouts. Over the next several years, I found that I could learn to do a lot of things that surprised me. I could jump rope, hula hoop, vault horses, work with weights, and hit the speed bag. With a small band of brothers and sisters, three mornings a week we gotten together to kick Parkie’s butt. Nobody else said it would work. We could just feel it. We lived it.
In 2011, inspired by my brother and supported by the coaches at Rock Steady, I ran my first marathon. In 2014, at age seventy, I worked with a running coach and I became faster. I even posted my best time at five different distances.
I am nearly fourteen years older now, sixteen years diagnosed. My movement and balance are not compromised to a great degree, and my thinking is still relatively clear. Age and a variety of health issues have chipped away a little, forcing me to confront the reality that I cannot maintain forever the strength and speed I have enjoyed in the past. Rather than allowing that to become a controlling frustration, I prefer to focus on what I can still do.
At Rock Steady Boxing, I found an atmosphere thick with possibility and hope. I reached a level of fitness I had never known or believed possible. I discovered a key to a new and richer spiritual relationship. I am enriched by the friendship and support of a diverse community joined by the common bond of the battle against the relentless symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease. Is there a Rock Steady attitude? I think perhaps there is. If you don’t bring it, you catch it. Despite the Parkinson’s Diagnosis and various complications each of us is dealing with, we all find the spirit to remain upbeat for the fight. Knowing that symptoms may further limit opportunities over time, we all bring a sense of urgency to what we are doing. Not in the sense of moving quickly, but in that we all believe that what we are doing is important and that we have an obligation to ourselves and to our loved ones to do all that we can while we are still able.
I would not wish the scourge of Parkinson’s on anyone, nor would I wish me with Parkinson’s on my family. Yet as a result of the Rock Steady Boxing program, most of the good things in my life are somehow related to my diagnosis.
As to those who may read this, we are like likely friends in spirit if not in fact, and for that I am grateful.
The fight goes on.