Knocking Out Parkinson’s Disease: Local Woman Fights Back
Writer / Rebecca Wood
Photographer / JJ Kaplan
Linda Porter first noticed a tremor in her hand. She believed it was the result of a pinched nerve and sought medical assistance.
Minutes into a doctor visit, her physician delivered a heavy diagnosis: Parkinson’s disease.
“I was speechless,” Linda laments with tears welling in her eyes. “I thought, ‘How can this be?’”
Don Porter, Linda’s husband, calls the physician’s diagnosis “shocking” and “unexpected.”
“The idea of having a disease is bad enough, but having one that we had no real chance of fighting is unnerving,” Don adds.
Linda, age 72, knew enough about Parkinson’s disease to be terrified. Parkinson’s disease is a progressive disorder of the nervous system that impacts movement. The symptoms of Parkinson’s, an incurable disease, worsen over time and include tremors, slowness in movement, rigidity and impaired balance among other symptoms.
After the diagnosis, Linda searched the Internet and devoured all she could about Parkinson’s disease. But she found all the information to be negative and depressing.
“The diagnosis took away my identity as a person,” she says. “I just sat in a chair and wondered what would happen to me. Everyone thought I was handling it well, but I began to slip into a dark place.”
Ten months after the diagnosis, she prayed that God would help her stay emotionally strong.
A few days after that prayer, she was talking with a friend from church about her diagnosis. The friend mentioned Rock Steady Boxing, a gym that uses boxing to improving the quality of life for those battling Parkinson’s disease.
Within days, Linda was visiting the Rock Steady gym located on the northeast side of Indianapolis.
She says Rock Steady Boxing was an answer to her prayer. “When I walked into the gym, it was like walking out of a dark place and into the sunshine,” she gushes.
She stood in the observation area and watched the energy in the gym. The participants were laughing and having fun, she admits while sporting a smile.
Within days, she was standing in the same gym, clad in workout attire and her own boxing gloves.
That was 14 months ago.
Today, Linda works out at Rock Steady Boxing three days a week. Her 90-minute workouts include stretching, cardio and strength stations and boxing.
The gym is loud. Boxers are encouraged to yell as Parkinson’s disease can reduce one’s voice. Lively music blares through speakers. The instructors act like drill sergeants and belt out commands. Linda says the coaches don’t treat them like their disease; the instructors tease and taunt them all in the spirit of fun and betterment. Holidays and birthdays are celebrated with gusto.
“The coaches truly love us,” she says. “It’s not just a job for them.”
Rock Steady Boxing is the brainchild of former Marion County Prosecutor Scott Newman who was diagnosed with early onset of Parkinson’s at the age of 40. Newman began intense one-on-one boxing training and noticed an improvement in his physical health and daily functioning.
Newman’s desire to help others with Parkinson’s disease led him to open Rock Steady Boxing in 2006. Kristy Rose Follmar, a former world champion professional boxer, was hired to act as head trainer. She continues in this role today.
Rock Steady Boxing was the first gym in the country dedicated to Parkinson’s disease, and the word of its success has spread both nationally and internationally. Today, Rock Steady Boxing gyms are open in 130 locations around the country and in four international locations (and this number continues to grow). Rock Steady gyms can be found in Brownsburg and Lebanon. The gym has been featured on several national news segments as well.
Currently, 240 participants box at the flagship gym in Indianapolis. There are four level of classes based on the progression of Parkinson’s symptoms.
Research confirms the benefits of boxing to Parkinson’s patients. University of Indianapolis conducted a two-year study on the Rock Steady participants. Their research concluded that the Rock Steady boxers maintained greater physical abilities and quality of life than those who participated in other modes of exercise. In fact, over the course of the research, none of the participants experienced progression of the disease. In some cases, the participant’s symptoms even improved during that two-year observation period.
Christine Timberlake, Rock Steady head coach and volunteer coordinator, says the benefits to Parkinson’s patients from Rock Steady are both physical and emotional.
“We initially focused on the physical improvements, but then a community started to form,” says Timberlake. “Chronic illness can shrink one’s world. Rock Steady is a safe place and a sacred place.”
Timberlake remembers when Linda first stepped into Rock Steady. “Linda was in a very difficult place on her first day. She was broken and trying to find hope,” Timberlake says. “From that moment, she totally turned around. She has a ‘take-back-your life’ attitude. She is the one greeting new people at the gym.”
Parkinson’s disease has not inhibited her life, asserts Linda. Today, she enjoys spending time with her husband and family, most of who are located in Carmel and Zionsville. She is an active member of Zionsville United Methodist Church.
Her hand tremor is gone. Recently, however, she has noticed slight tremors in her legs and right arm.
“I don’t want people to go to Rock Steady and think they are cured,” she cautions. “Our hope is that all of this exercise will slow the progression of the disease.”
Linda affirms that she is more than Parkinson’s disease. “I am a wife, a mom, a grandmother, a friend and a fighter,” she asserts. “No one would choose to have Parkinson’s disease, but then I wouldn’t have Rock Steady. With the bad comes the good. We’re all in this fight together.”
Volunteers are welcome and needed at Rock Steady gym. If interested, contact Christine Timberlake at 317-205-9198.