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In 2013, the YMCA of Southwestern Indiana in Evansville, Indiana, was approached simultaneously by the community as a whole, and by a member with Parkinson’s. The community wanted to bring a general boxing program to their Y, while the individual with Parkinson’s was looking specifically to get Rock Steady Boxing started. Because the Southwestern Indiana Y’s mission and outreach is to address chronic disease, they became the first YMCA Rock Steady affiliate.

The Rock Steady headquarters in Indianapolis is where instructors — usually personal trainers or Group X instructors — go to become certified. “It’s a two-day, pretty intense training program,” said Sally Kroeger, the health initiatives director at the Southwestern Indiana Y. “With some hands-on training, they also learn about the disease and they learn how boxing can improve symptoms.”

The unique boxing program, open to men and women of all ages and levels of ability, incorporates exercises such as stretching, bicycling, running, jump-roping, push-ups, balancing and non-contact boxing. The classes are divided into two levels based on each participant’s symptoms and overall fitness level. Before beginning the program, a one-on-one assessment with a coach is also required to best fit the participant’s needs.

According to Kroeger, there’s a belt across the country with a high number of Parkinson’s cases, and the Evansville community has a lot. And prior to four years ago, there were not many services for this need. “We have since added another program for people with Parkinson’s, called ‘Peddling for Parkinson’s,’” she elaborated. “It’s a stationary bike class. Both of these programs are evidence-based, where they discovered that sustained RPMs of 80 to 100 help with symptoms, and help delay the degeneration of the neurological function.”

One of the unique aspects of offering these specialized programs is not only the ability to help your community, but the effect participants have on staff and coaches, according to Kroeger. “These participants grab your heart and hold onto it, and they’ve really enhanced our lives over here,” she said. “Recently, the coaches and participants did a social outing, and walked from our Y to a local restaurant and had lunch together. It’s just that kind of mission-oriented work that makes our Y tick, where you’re impacting people on a daily basis in a deep way.”

Because Rock Steady takes a dedicated space, it is most often found in private gyms or boxing studios, rather than Ys. But whether your facility currently has the space or not, Kroeger suggested finding ways to help and support this need, as more and more Y’s are beginning to adopt it as well.

“It’s a lot of work to get it started, but it really is so impactful and needed in our communities,” said Kroeger. “We know that social isolation is a problem in the general population, but it’s an even bigger problem with these special populations. So I would say don’t hesitate to do it — it’s well worth it on the backside. It’s not overly profitable, but it’s very mission-oriented and that’s why YMCAs do what they do.”

Brittany Howard

Brittany is the editor of Community Rec Magazine. Reach her at brittany@peakemedia.com.

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