Copyright 2017 The State Journal- Register
All Rights Reserved
The State Journal- Register (Springfield, IL)
"I use a ball that is tethered at the top and bottom, and when you hit that, to me that's the most fun," Kearney said. "You go 'boom, boom, boom, boom' as hard and fast as you can with your two hands with your boxing gloves on."
"Then we have two hanging bags. They each weigh 100 pounds, and with those, when you hit them, you move your body to give more power to your punch," said Kearney, who wears pink boxing gloves for her workouts. "Oh it's fun, lots of fun."
The bag-punching Kearney is not a typical 69-year-old woman in one other way. She has Parkinson's, a degenerative disorder that can cause deterioration of motor skills, balance, speech and sensory function. She boxes to help fight the ravages of the incurable disease through the new, non-contact Rock Steady Boxing program offered at Memorial's SportsCare. Kearney joined the program when it became available earlier this year.
"I feel stronger and I can do things that I know people who don't have Parkinson's can't do. Some of the bags that I work on, people have no idea how to use them," Kearney said. "We have a lot of young athletes come in for their workouts, like from the Junior Blues, who say they don't know how to use the bags, so I show them how."
Kearney was diagnosed with Parkinson's in 2012. The disease made it difficult for her to walk, a problem that medication didn't address well. So Kearney began exercising at the YMCA to build her strength.
"Now I'm kind of 'buffed up' as they say. And when they started Rock Steady, I could use my strength when I box, which is cool," Kearney said. "I have Rock Steady muscle shirts that I wear, and I think they look chic."
'Has to be hard'
Rock Steady Boxing is a nonprofit organization that gives people with Parkinson's disease hope by improving their quality of life through a non-contact, boxing-based fitness curriculum. Memorial SportsCare began offering the classes last month after two of their sports enhancement specialists were certified in Rock Steady Boxing. One of those specialists is Gabriel Stinson.
"Lynn is awesome to work with, she wants to work hard, she enjoys working hard, and she is ornery. She gives us grief every day that she comes in," Stinson said. "She'll laugh and joke with you, and at the end of every workout, we're both smiling. She's an inspiration, she enjoys it, she works hard and has fun with it."
Stinson and fellow sports enhancement specialist Joshua Grant completed training last fall in order to offer the Rock Steady Boxing program in the SportsCare section of the Springfield YMCA. Stinson said the trainers emphasized that two things needed to happen to make the program work.
"The training stressed making it fun and making it hard," Stinson said. "It has to be hard, it has to push both their nervous system and their muscular system past their normal limits. That's what really helps make improvements in people. And we need to make it fun and build a community with it."
"Every participant basically does every type of training that a boxer would do, non-contact of course," Stinson said. "Hitting heavy bags, hitting speed bags, working at a very high intensity for short bursts of anywhere from three to five minutes, followed by a very short break, and then they repeat these exercises.
"Everything we have them do is combating what Parkinson's is doing to their bodies. They gain strength that Parkinson's tries to take away and they gain confidence."
No two the same
Stinson said it takes up to six weeks for participants to notice a difference. The first classes are at that threshold now, and Stinson said a recent quick survey indicated those taking part have noticed improvement.
"They have a disease that they know each day is going to get worse. And they have decided rather than just giving up and letting the disease take over, they're going to fight it," Stinson said. "It's totally amazing. I look at them and think, 'There's nothing wrong with that person, they don't have Parkinson's.' I mean, they just keep after the workouts, go as hard as they possibly can, and it's amazing to see what this type of working out does for them."
Roger Halleen of East Peoria is with the Central Illinois Parkinson's Support Group and his wife participates in the Rock Steady Boxing program in the Peoria area.
"My wife goes to boxing twice a week, and they have become a close-knit, very active group," Halleen said. "It gets loud, and they have fun with it. That increases their exercise and improves their attitude."
While those who take part in the boxing program seem to achieve amazing results, Halleen said it might not work for everybody with Parkinson's because the disease affects everyone differently.
"I've heard it referred to as the 'snowflake disease' because there are no two snowflakes that are alike, and there are no two people who have Parkinson's that are alike," Halleen said. "I know people that have been diagnosed for 20 to 25 years and it's kind of hard to tell that they have Parkinson's. I know people who have been diagnosed for five years and you would think, 'Oh, they've had it for 30 years.'"
"The normal vision of Parkinson's is somebody who shakes, has tremors," Halleen said. "I know a lot of people in our support group, my wife included, who don't have tremors, but have a hard time just moving in general. Some people develop the dementia issue and some don't."
All about attitude
The pink-gloved Kearney said that Rock Steady Boxing and a positive outlook have made a tremendous difference in her life.
"When you find out you have Parkinson's, it's scary," Kearney said. "But I have learned through the doctors that I deal with that it's attitude that makes the difference. And the harder you work your body, the longer you will be able to work it."
Kearney hopes her story will encourage others with Parkinson's to take advantage of the Rock Steady Boxing program. Her husband, son, daughter-in-law and two grandsons ages 6 and 3 are all supportive, and a possible upcoming broadcast interview may let them "see Grandma box on TV," she said.
But will she adopt a nickname like other famous boxers? Killer Kearney, Golden Granny or Lefty Lynn, perhaps?
"Do you think I ought to get one? I think that's a great idea, something like Rocky Balboa," Kearney said.
There are 16 people enrolled in the Springfield Rock Steady Boxing program. Classes are nearly full, but those who can't get in right away will be put on a short waiting list. Rock Steady Boxing participants meet for 90-minute sessions offered four times a week on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 2:30 to 4 p.m. and 5:30 to 7 p.m. More information is available at www.memorialmedical.com/services/sportscare/specialty-programs/rock-steady-boxing.
- Contact David Blanchette through the metro desk: 788-1517.
Read More of Today's AB Headlines
Subscribe to Our Daily E-Newsletter