By Saloni Jain
Being diagnosed with this disease is tough, to say the least, but there’s a new Rock Steady Boxing (RSB) gym in East Greenwich that is giving people with Parkinson’s a chance to fight back.
RSB was started as a nonprofit in Indianapolis in 2006 by a man who had been diagnosed with early-onset Parkinson’s. Today there are Rock Steady Boxing gyms all over the country and you can find outposts in Europe, Africa and Asia. The EG gym marks the third in Rhode Island, with the other two in Westerly and Narragansett. Having successfully implemented Rock Steady at another facility (over 85 members!), Director Carolyn Kosiba-Quiterio was approached by many who hoped she would expand.
“I love to be challenged and have a penchant for making people feel their best,” Kosiba-Quiterio said.
As such, Kosiba-Quiterio decided to open a RSB gym in East Greenwich, conveniently located in the central part of the state. She felt that starting the program allows her to continue helping people with Parkinson’s disease improve their lives.
“This gives me an opportunity to help people within the community and within the state of Rhode Island to have a better quality of life so they can be with their family, with their friends … so they can enjoy playing with their grandchildren,” she said.
Having Parkinson’s disease causes a lack of dopamine in the brain, which impairs a person’s range of motion, eye-hand coordination, balance, and strength, not allowing them to do those aforementioned activities. So, how can boxing help?
Well, the RSB program includes a lot of “forced, intense exercise… the more force and the more intens[ity] you [put into hitting] that boxing bag, the more you fire up the neurotransmitters in the muscles, and you’re sending dopamine to the brain,” Kosiba-Quiterio explained.
Many people may think that this “forced, intense” boxing may lead to brain injuries, something that many fighters suffer from. However, RSB only offers a non-contact program, which is solely focused on strengthening, not fighting another opponent.
With this non-contact “boxing-inspired program,” people can fight against their impairments by doing punching boxing drills, along with some ring work, calisthenics, circuit training, footwork, and additional conditioning. All of these exercises, combined, help improve a person’s agility, strength, balance, and eye-hand coordination.
No prior boxing experience is needed. Everyone can benefit from the boxing classes. For those in need, the American Parkinson Disease Association RI Chapter can provide financial assistance to help cover the costs of RSB classes. To choose which class a person attends, Kosiba-Quiterio conducts an assessment on a person’s abilities to determine if they will either attend the challenge class or the basic class. Challenge classes begin at 9 a.m., and basic classes run at 10:30am and 12pm, Tuesday through Friday.
Through these classes, however, athletes aren’t training to be boxers or “bodybuilders”; they’re training to navigate their ADLs (activities of daily living), with a little more ease.
“We are always practicing things that are needed, ” said Kosiba-Quiterio. Whether that be building the strength needed to lift groceries or practicing climbing steps to walk up a staircase, the RSB classes incorporate practical and applicable activities that will benefit each individual and help them lead a more independent life.
In addition to the boxing and fitness classes, people can stay after a class to play some games or participate in activities to further improve upon their impairments. Through a collaboration with occupational therapy students, RSB is able to provide fall prevention, writing skills, and cognition exercises workshops. With fall prevention, coaches ensure that each person is stepping from their heel to their toe, instead of their toe to their heel, which prevents a person from falling. Through writing skills, people practice writing to improve their penmanship. And with the cognition exercises, people further improve their cognitive skills through games.
Several people have already witnessed improvements from the program. Even before being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and a mild cognitive impairment, Cara Sansonia decided to go to Rock Steady after being diagnosed with essential tremor. She said going to Rock Steady has become an important part of her life and that it has definitely helped with body strength, range of motion, and overall cognition.
“It’s my first priority every day,” Sansonia said. “My doctor says it’s more important than medication.”
Leif Reslow, a more recent attendee of the classes, has also experienced positive changes in his life.
“Rock Steady Boxing has changed my life schedule, for the better,” Reslow said. He went on to explain that after a couple months of training, he could engage in more everyday activities with less shuffling. In addition, RSB has given him motivation and purpose in life, not to mention a supportive community of newfound friends.
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, RSB has found ways to adapt their boxing program to R.I. Department of Health and CDC guidelines. Before entering RSB, everyone is screened for symptoms of COVID. Hand sanitizer is placed near the entrance, exit and bathrooms for convenience, and fans run to ensure constant air flow. Lastly, everyone, including coaches and athletes, is required to wear a mask and follow social distancing inside the facility.
All the coaches at RSB are volunteers. If you would like to help out and become a volunteer coach, contact Carolyn Kosiba-Quiterio at 401-203-5133, and she’ll tell you where you can volunteer.
“These athletes appreciate each and every piece and portion of time you can give them. It’s all about building relationships and we’re building a community here – that’s why this place is so great,” Kosiba-Quiterio said.
Author Saloni Jain is going into 11th grade at East Greenwich High School.