‘Knock out Parkinson’s’ program grows exponentially

J. Patrick Eaken

        Take it from people living with Parkinson’s disease — there is no better way to improve their condition than putting on some boxing gloves and throwing a few punches.
That’s why at the International Boxing Club, founded and operated by east side native Harry Cummins, a Parkinson’s research program called Knock-Out PD has grown from four to 136 participants in five years.
        “We’re still growing. They love it,” Cummins said. “It’s camaraderie — the people enjoy each other and the company and the environment, and they push one another. They know what they are in for.
        “Unfortunately, some people said they went to (a commercial gym) and some people were making fun of them because they shake. Here, no one makes fun. We’re all a team and we push each other, so they love that. And, they feel good. They work out and are releasing stress, and getting a cardio-workout because they can’t run. Their confidence is building up because they are boxing. We see a lot of improvement in a lot of people.”
        It began after Cummins spent a weekend in Indianapolis learning from the Rock Steady Boxing training camp about how boxing can help those with PD. Rock Steady was founded in 2006 by Scott Newman, who was diagnosed with PD at the age of 40, and his program provided a prototype for other gyms.
        Partnering with the IBC is the University of Toledo occupational therapy program, and soon Owens Community College will be on board, Cummins said.
        The program is a result of a Capstone project developed by University of Toledo Occupational Therapy Doctorate graduate, Rachel Martinez, a 2007 graduate of Clay High School.
        “They are doing a lot of research and every 12 weeks we are evaluating them to see how they are doing,” Cummins said. “I’ve had doctors come in, because we have their patients, and they say, ‘Man, I don’t know what is going on but what an improvement.’ Now they are cutting back on their medicine and their blood-pressure medicine. We just had (a neurologist) come in and said he can’t believe how much it’s helping one of his patients.
        “The students that come here actually learn so much, too. You know, they are studying in their books, but to actually be here hands-on and everybody is different.”
        The IBC’s Parkinson’s program received national attention when a news crew arrived from CBS in New York. A free program to participants, it is paid through various IBC fundraisers, plus the IBC was a benefactor from this year’s Marathon Classic LPGA tournament.
‘Didn’t choose Parkinson’s’
        Susan Davidson and Barb George drive from Findlay to the IBC gymnasium in West Toledo just to attend the Knock-Out Parkinson’s sessions, which are held each Wednesday and Friday mornings.
        “We drive up here an hour to get here and it’s worth every moment. We love it,” Davidson said. “We didn’t choose to have this disease, but since we have it, we’re choosing to do what we can to just keep going and to keep on living.
        “We found out about it through our neurologist, our movement disorder specialist, that boxing is actually a very good type of exercise for someone with Parkinson’s, having to do with the different movements and the neurons in your brain, so it’s a great physical activity for all of us and it’s a lot of fun, even though we are all sweating. Just as important is it is a great support group,” Davidson added.
        “We all, for the most part, just know each other’s first names, but we are a really tight group and we welcome all new members as they join the class. Coach (Cummins) is like an amazing person — what he does for the youth at risk in the Toledo area and also the people with Parkinson’s — not charging everyone and giving his all to the programs here.”
        George adds, “It’s mostly the people and the socialization of it. Obviously, it’s a great workout. It’s the friendships and we all come in here knowing we have the same disease even though we are all in different stages. You’re just accepted for who you are. Nobody’s looking at you differently or nobody is thinking anything is weird about you. We have fun.
        “We all believe it’s slowing the progression of our Parkinson’s. That’s the main thing is we want to do anything we can to try and slow that progression.”
        Mark Litwinski drives to the IBC from Monroe, Michigan. He is not surprised by the program’s growth and he has tried to contribute.
        “I think it’s the dedication of the people here helping to bring more people, because I talk to everybody about it. I think I may have gotten one or two people myself to come here at different times,” Litwinski said. “It doesn’t matter what religion or race we are; everybody is one here.”
        His family helped steer him toward the IBC after doctors had a difficult time getting a diagnosis.
        “They had a hard time finding it but when I went to a doctor up in Farmington Hills and as I walked in, he knew right off the bat that I had Parkinson’s,” Litwinski said. “Everybody I’ve talked to, doctors, friends, all suggest that I take boxing.
        “I was kind of hesitant to start the boxing until my wife, my daughter and my sister got on me really hard and my daughter found Parkinson’s at the International Boxing Club in Toledo, to come down and talk to the people down here.”
        The program is free of charge and Cummins would not have it any other way.
        “I’m blessed to be able to help these people. That is what life is all about — being able to help people,” Cummins said.
        “Everybody is saying, ‘Well, how much money am I going to get paid?’ It’s not about money. We don’t charge these people. It’s all free of charge because they are on a fixed income. They spent $12,000 to $17,000 a year out of pocket for medical expenses — prescriptions and that. We can’t charge them. I don’t want them sitting home. So, my fight is doing fundraisers and that and keeping the doors open. I’m surprised on how we’ve done. We’ve been open 21 years now.”
        Cummins says he, his staff, and volunteers at the IBC are rewarded, too.
        “We’re like a family here. Everyone knows everybody by their first name and not their last name, but they are just supportive and they inspire me,” Cummins said. “As a coach, I have to motivate and inspire people all of the time, but these people inspire me. When I get up in the morning, I look forward to coming and working with them. I see them with their diseases and that and it pushes me. I want to do more so I can help them.”


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