Bob Chase hits the pads being held by Victory Boxing’s Paul Hampton. Photo: Charles Anderson.

Punching back against Parkinson’s

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On an unusually cold Thursday morning, a support group of a different kind is getting gloved up while listening to a revolving playlist of Neil Diamond, Johnny Cash and Shania Twain.

It’s not your typical boxing soundtrack. That’s because this twice-weekly group of men and women do not seem like your typical boxers.

Every one of them has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease – a degenerative movement disorder which can cause deterioration of motor skills, balance, speech and sensory function.

“Come on, guys,” says Victory Boxing’s Paul Hampton. “Keep working.”

The group moves over to the heavy bags and begin punching.

“This works,” says Bob Chase, who is originally from Hawaii. “Just imagine it’s Trump.”

He was diagnosed with an aggressive form of Parkinson’s about three years ago but has found the boxing a welcome addition to his week.

“I loved it from the very first day,” he says. “Just the punching, it’s great exercise.”

Which is why Paul started offering the classes at his Vanguard St gym about three months ago.

A man came in off the street and wondered if Paul might teach his wife, who suffered from the disease.

“I had already been reading up about it,” Paul says. “I found it really interesting.”

He got in touch with a researcher at the University of Indianapolis, who had looked at the benefit of boxing for Parkinson’s sufferers, and put together a programme.

“I tailored it to suit these guys’ needs,” Paul says. “The feedback is that it is really working for them.”

An organisation in the United States called “Rock Steady” has been offering a similar course for more than a decade. Now it has hundreds of affiliates around the world.

Paul recruited his mum Annie, who is a registered nurse, to sit in on the sessions to make sure it is safe. Even she can see the difference in the group.

“They are stronger and they can tell if they haven’t been in a couple of weeks.”

Bob Lynch, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s 15-years-ago, says boxing does things other types of exercise do not.

“It’s not so much to do with the legs. It’s using the top half and you have to think about numbers and timing. It’s quite different.”

He says the group has become a type of support group.

“It’s great camaraderie.”

Parkinson’s New Zealand community educator Claire Fisher says exercise is great for sufferers as it stimulates dopamine, which helps with motor action.

There are about 100 people in this  area on the organisation’s books and the hope is that more will get involved with the programme.

“The gym is for everybody. It’s a community place,” says Paul. “If people feel like we can help them, then we will.”

And he is learning from the experience, too.

“I love it, the guys are great. I learned a lot more about country music, too.

“But their taste for Shania Twain is a bit weird.”