Fighting Back

Fred Ferrell boxes during the Parkinson's program at the Christian Boxing Academy Friday, March 22, 2019, in Cape Girardeau.
Kassi Jackson ~ semissourian.com

Christian Boxing Academy offers program for people with Parkinsonís Disease

Murray Sullivan holds up his boxing gloves for a photo during the Parkinson's program at the Christian Boxing Academy Friday, March 22, 2019, in Cape Girardeau.
Kassi Jackson ~ semissourian.com

When Tim Estes of Pocahontas, Missouri, first began attending the Christian Boxing Academy and Learning Centerís Parkinsonís Disease ministry in Cape Girardeau, he couldnít get out of a chair. Six weeks later, he walks around doing group exercises and working out at the speed bag, making jokes with the other boxers while encouraging them in their own workouts.

Fred Ferrell, left, works on a boxing exercise while being supported by volunteer Gene Brunkhorst, right, during the Parkinson's program at the Christian Boxing Academy Friday, March 22, 2019, in Cape Girardeau.
KASSI JACKSON ~ kjackson@semissourian.com

Itís a drastic change Estes is grateful for; he is enthusiastic about the ways the program has helped transform his life with Parkinsonís.

Carl Black, right, boxes with Joe Schlosser during the Parkinson's program at the Christian Boxing Academy Friday, March 22, 2019, in Cape Girardeau.
KASSI JACKSON ~ kjackson@semissourian.com

ďMost of these guys are [in their] 70s and 80s. They inspire me,Ē Estes says. ďItís a wonderful program. Itís got me closer to God, itís just helped me in everything, all the way around.Ē

Itís a sentiment echoed by each of the other 14 people with Parkinsonís working out in the gym. The atmosphere is jovial and communal; it is clear the people there care about each other, pushing each other to make progress.

Itís the vision of Danny Rees, who founded the Christian Boxing Academy in 2013 to provide a place of faith for students while teaching them how to box. Formerly housed at The Salvation Army and then at The Bridge Church, Rees and his wife, Colleen Rees, bought the ministryís current building at 155 S. Park Ave. in Cape Girardeau in December 2018. With the help of funds from LaCroix United Methodist Church in Cape Girardeau, they have turned it into a gym.

This is the first year the ministry has functioned as a not-for-profit, called Christian Boxing Academy and Learning Center. The Parkinsonís program was added in November 2018.

Michael Brown, left, shares a moment with Danny Rees during the Parkinson's program at the Christian Boxing Academy Friday, March 22, 2019, in Cape Girardeau.
KASSI JACKSON ~ kjackson@semissourian.com

Rees first thought of starting a program especially for people with Parkinsonís Disease around a year ago when he saw a segment on CBS News about the ways boxing training can deflect or reverse the effects of Parkinsonís. When he told his friend about the idea, his friend said he had another friend whose father had Parkinsonís; he might be willing to try boxing.

That man, Steve Douglas, is from East Prairie, Missouri. He came in to the ministry to try boxing in October 2018 and has been coming back three times a week ever since, seeing significant results.

Douglas says the camaraderie and being around people with the same issues has given him hope. He says it changes his ďattitude and perspective. Itís also an asset to be around people whoíve had [Parkinsonís Disease]. You see something that worked for them that you might try; you think itís not hopeless.Ē

With an estimated 930,000 people in the United States who will be living with Parkinsonís Disease by 2020, programs like the Christian Boxing Academy and Learning Centerís are needed to provide physically, mentally and spiritually for people with the disease. The Christian Boxing Academyís program is free to the public, supported through donations from local businesses and individuals. Students from Southeast Missouri State Universityís Department of Kinesiology, Nutrition & Recreation also volunteer with the program.

The workout looks like this: the boxers and volunteers circle up to hear about each otherísí lives and pray together. Then, for the first 30 minutes, they remain in that circle, participating in group exercises such as lunges, leg lifts and passing a ball. After this, the 1950s and Ď60s music is cranked up, and boxers are free to move from station to station throughout the gym, completing exercises with boxing mitts, chairs and the double-end bag for three minutes at a time. Volunteers circulate the room, checking in with each boxer and encouraging them in how far theyíve come, while pushing them to do even better.

ďWeíve become a family rather quickly, and so we get to hang out and we get to share in each otherís joys. And really here, itís all joy,Ē Rees says. ďEven if theyíre hurting or donít feel good that day, itís still joy involved in that.Ē

This mental aspect is a key component of the program: Ash Sampath, a third-year medical student at the University of Missouri School of Medicine in Columbia, Missouri, is conducting a study with the Christian Boxing Academy and Learning Centerís Parkinsonís Disease ministry. The study is one of the first in the medical field to evaluate the effect of goal-oriented exercise on the non-motor functions of Parkinsonís Disease. Sampath and neurologists from the University of Missouri School of Medicine are examining if the program helps stop the progression of Parkinsonís Disease. Patient progress is recorded through various metrics and validated clinical surveys. Sampath will be presenting his research to the medical world at the Midwest Clinical and Translational Meeting in Chicago.

ďThe potential is astronomical,Ē Sampath says of the program. ďEveryone knows that non-motor functions of Parkinsonís Disease are associated with a lower quality of life; however, few have studied ways to diminish them.Ē

Sampath says they hope they are creating a framework others can use in small towns to help patients with Parkinsonís Disease.

ďApart from boxing, we have created a support network and given these patients a renewed sense of normalcy,Ē he says. ďThis is a big-city program in a small town.Ē

Gene Garrison of Jackson, one of the boxers who regularly attends the program, has had Parkinsonís Disease for 11 years. For him, it began with flicks of his thumb that at first were few and ďfar between,Ē and continued to become more regular over time. As soon as a neurologist diagnosed him with Parkinsonís, he says he went to work utilizing physical workouts to fight back.

Eleven years later, after four to five weeks of attending the Christian Boxing Academy and Learning Centerís program, he says other people have noticed he stands more erect and has improved his walk. As a former high school coach and administrator, Garrison supplements these workouts with his own regiment on the off-days.

His advice to anyone facing Parkinsonís?

ďDo not lay down, do not quit. Fight, fight, fight,Ē he says. ďI started out very early ó anything I noticed that it did to me, I did it back. I found a way to fight back with it. When I shake, my hand wanted to curl. I grabbed a hold of the sink and refused to let it curl. And when I walked, I practiced walking.Ē

One way he recommends fighting back is to get involved in a program like the one at the Christian Boxing Academy and Learning Center. This, he says, will provide not only a way to fight back physically, but also the camaraderie needed to fight back mentally.

ďI will not give in to [Parkinsonís Disease], no matter what it does,Ē Garrison says.


Interested in attending or volunteering with the Christian Boxing Academyís Parkinsonís Health Ministry?

The group is open to the public and meets at 155 S. Park Ave. in Cape Girardeau on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 9 to 10:45 a.m. Donations to the ministry are also gratefully accepted. For more information or to donate, connect with the Christian Boxing Academy on Facebook or email drrees1960@yahoo.com.