A boxing program in Santa Maria is helping seniors reverse the impacts of neurological diseases like Parkinson’s one punch at a time.
Gary Peterson, 70, picked up the gloves last year after he was diagnosed with the disease.
"I always watch boxing, I like boxing," Peterson said. "So when I heard it was available, I went to see (the class) the first day and I knew I wanted to stay. It was for me."
Peterson didn’t join the Neuroboxing program just to stay in shape. He’s fighting for his quality of life.
"I couldn’t walk, couldn’t get out of bed," Peterson said. "I couldn’t walk worth beans, I’d fall a lot."
What happened to Peterson – loss of motor skills, cognitive functions, and communication – is typical of many patients with Parkinson’s Disease.
While it does not cause death, the disease can cause other health issues that result in death.
April Sargeant is the program instructor, leading classes three days each week at Dignity Health in Santa Maria.
"We do (teach) motor skills, balance work, things that Parkinson’s is gonna take away from them," Sargeant said.
Sargeant is a certified personal trainer. She started her career sculpting muscles, but now she’s also training minds.
The program includes squats, ladder climbs, and rope work, in addition to math problems and knot tying.
"It’s amazing, sometimes people see results in a month," Sargeant said. "We have one guy here who hadn’t been able to tie his shoes for 10 years. He can tie his shoes now and he comes to class every day with a pair of tied shoes."
Sargeant’s class not only helps participants regain the ability to do basic everyday tasks like standing up and sitting down but helps them prevent injury.
"Strengthening the body core for my balance," David McDowell, a 67-year-old participant said. "I ain’t falling as much. I used to fall a couple of times a week, now it’s a couple times a month."
Lucy Bowers has already noticed changes in her husband, Kenneth, who has regained much of the mobility and communication he lost earlier in his Parkinson’s diagnosis.
"When he sees that these guys have the same thing he does, it’s easier to get in and participate when you see the other people understand what you have," Bowers said.
That comradery is something McDowell said keeps spirits high in and out of class.
The class is so popular that Sargeant is currently in the process of expanding into another building in town.
"I can throw anything out there, but it’s up to these guys to do it," Sargeant said.
For those doing the literal legwork, the class is a solution to a much darker alternative.
"I see a big difference in myself, I’d never want to go back to the way I would’ve been," Peterson said.
For more information on the class, click here.