ROCK STEADY BOXING
Sport-Inspired Workouts Help People with Parkinson’s Fight Back
Coaches Jack Cook (right), Ian Fetterman, Shawn Callagher
Every disease is cruel in its own way, but Parkinson’s disease delivers some particularly low blows.
Its symptoms can be vague and its progression unpredictable, so anyone diagnosed with Parkinson’s is constantly on the lookout for dreaded signs of decline. And the symptoms aren’t just irritating and inconvenient; they steadily rob patients of a basic freedom, the ability to control their own bodies. Over time, Parkinson’s can hijack facial expressions, turn eating into a chore and make walking independently all but impossible.
But now a boxing-inspired therapy is giving people with Parkinson’s a chance to fight back.
Rock Steady Boxing’s non-contact workouts have been proven to build strength, flexibility and speed—reversing, reducing or delaying Parkinson’s symptoms. By exercising with coaches who know the ropes, people at any stage of the disease can start feeling and functioning better.
The first program of its kind in the country, Rock Steady Boxing was founded in 2006 by Scott C. Newman, a former Marion County, Indiana, prosecutor living with Parkinson’s. There are more than 500 Rock Steady Boxing programs around the world, and nearly 26,000 people with Rock Steady training.
Janis Cook, a registered nurse on the Emerald Coast, first heard about the program while visiting Indianapolis, her hometown. As her husband, Jack had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s, she attended a training to see what it was all about.
She learned that the positive results achieved through Rock Steady training reflect what multiple clinical studies have shown: that forced exercise—that is, pushing a weakened or atrophied limb to work harder—measurably improves motor function in people with the disease. In 2016, the Journal of Aging and Physical Activity published a review of 14 clinical studies on the subject, concluding that exercising for an hour two to four times a week for 6 to 12 weeks “promotes significant positive effects on quality of life” in people with mild to moderate Parkinson's.
Janis was especially encouraged by what she’d learned because there are few therapies for Parkinson’s patients beyond medication, which can have serious side effects.
“Medicine helps only so much, and most patients are told there’s little hope beyond that,” she says. “Without movement programs like Rock Steady, the disease progresses, and doctors get to the point where they find little sense in continuing to test balance or mobility because they know it's not going to improve with medicine alone.”
That’s what had happened with Jack. Medications eased his symptoms but hadn’t improved his motor skills. When his doctor stopped measuring them altogether, he’d grown depressed, convinced that nothing could help him.
Sixty thousand people are diagnosed with Parkinson’s annually. Janis knew that Jack wasn’t the only person on the Emerald Coast who could benefit from Rock Steady.
She already owned one business, Ageless Solutions in Navarre; Jack was retired. But together they launched a new local business, one where Jack and others like him could finally fight back against Parkinson’s.
Rock Steady Boxing in Gulf Breeze has been open just a few weeks, but people are already beginning to discover it. Locals Bill and Connie Aldrich, who had been traveling to Tallahassee or Gulf Shores to train, are now working out close to home. Snowbirds are flocking to the center too.
“Both men and women train here, and we see them steadily improving,” Jack says. “That’s true for me too. Since I’ve been boxing and coaching, I’m finally seeing improvement that medication never gave me. Now only my left hand still tremors.”
Rock Steady has become a labor of love for the Cooks as well as many of its members. Ian Fetterman, who is retired from the military; his wife, Alie; and Shawn Callagher are both members and volunteer coaches.
While Rock Steady’s owners pay an affiliation fee and its members pay a fee as well, the Cooks say they just want the center to pay for itself so they can continue to provide help—and hope—to people with Parkinson's.
Rock Steady Boxing is located at 5660 Gulf Breeze Pkwy., Unit A3, Gulf Breeze, FL. For more information, call 850-934-3364 or visit EmeraldCoast.RSBaffiliate.com. To see some Rock Steady workouts, visit