When D’Ann Averwater’s brother was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, the information she found was not encouraging. This degenerative movement disorder can cause deterioration of motor skills, balance, speech and sensory function. Medications target the symptoms but can’t slow the progression.

Then she stumbled across an article about Rock Steady Boxing, the first gym in the country dedicated to the fight against Parkinson’s. “It was a ray of hope in a bleak prognosis, offering improvement in quality of life for today,” D’Ann said.

Her brother wasn’t as excited about it as she was, but she encouraged him to give it a try for three months, then decide whether or not to continue. She joined with him in the role of cornerman, which is a supportive role for family and caregivers. “We have never wondered whether it was the right decision and never debated quitting after the three months was over,” she said. “He continues to box three times a week.”

After her brother’s success with Rock Steady Boxing, D’Ann wanted others to benefit. She talked to Jan Averwater, Christ Church Athletics Director, about the church becoming an affiliate. “It seems they bring activity to every imaginable population as a way of sharing the love of Christ. Kids, adults, younger, older, special abilities, average abilities, all growing together through fun and fitness,” D’Ann said. “Being right in the center of the city, with an active athletic outreach and amazing facilities made Christ Church the perfect spot. I had no idea how quickly the idea would catch on.”

Since Rock Steady Boxing began in 2006, it has grown to include 550+ affiliates and more than 1,500 certified coaches and 25,000 boxers. “It’s growing because it works,” she said. “Forced intense exercise like boxing has been scientifically shown to slow the progression of Parkinson’s disease and in many cases can actually reverse many of the symptoms.”

Strictly non-contact, classes are built on boxing fundamentals around the specific needs of those with Parkinson’s. Participants work on balance, mobility, agility, dexterity, cognitive skills, reflexes and flexibility. “We play games, cheer each other on, laugh together and cry together,” she said. “The socialization may actually be one of the greatest benefits of Rock Steady Boxing.”

>>Classes begin May 21 and will be offered on Mondays and Wednesdays at 11:30 a.m. and Saturdays at 10 a.m. Interested in participating? Contact Libby Shackelford, (901) 683-6887, for an assessment with a coach. Rock Steady boxing was recently featured on We Believe in Memphis. Watch it here.

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