Sister brings Rock Steady Boxing Program to assist brother dealing with Parkinson’s disease
By Dan Ravellette
When the love of a sister was poured out to her brother, it produced a program that packs a powerful punch.
That is how the Rock Steady Boxing program was made possible at 10th and Main streets in downtown Vincennes. It all began in a hospital room at Good Samaritan Hospital as Mary Angela Roark and her brother, 64-year-old Mark Evans, sat at their mother’s bedside talking and sharing family memories.
During one of these conversations, Evans confided to his sister that he had been making weekly treks to gymnasiums to participate in a program designed to alleviate some of the effects of his Parkinson’s disease. He revealed that he had been driving to Evansville every Monday and Wednesday, as well as putting himself behind the wheel and making a journey to Bloomington every Friday for about eight to 10 months.
Evans was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in July 2016. He said when he first received the news, his doctor said, “Well, I have good news and I have bad news. The good news is … you’ve got Parkinson’s. The bad news is … you’ve got Parkinson’s.”
In the months since Evans received this life-changing information, he said he has concluded the worst aspect of dealing with this disease is “what you don’t see, and that’s where boxing comes in.
“What you don’t see is how much your muscles and everything tighten up. You’ll wake up during the night and you’ll have charley horses like crazy. Well, boxing helps that a lot,” he said. “But with Parkinson’s, I think the key is to keep moving. You stop moving, it’ll bite you!”
Bringing the program to Vincennes
When Roark learned that her brother was driving about 450 miles every week to seek help in relieving some of the Parkinson’s disease symptoms, the wheels began to turn and she immediately sprang into action.
“Oh, my goodness,” she said she thought to herself, “I don’t want him to go through another winter of having to drive.”
After consulting with her husband and discussing what she could do, Roark contacted Good Samaritan Hospital. She was given permission to use their foundation to collect tax-deductible donations for a local facility that would serve her brother and others who suffer from Parkinson’s disease.
The positive response allowed Roark to raise enough funding for a Rock Steady Boxing program to be set up in the American Karate Do Kickboxing gymnasium at 1002 Main St. in Vincennes. With the financial assistance provided through Roark’s fund-raising efforts, Scott Arnold, CEO and owner of the facility, was more than happy to attend classes and training in Indianapolis where he earned his required certification as an official Rock Steady Boxing program instructor.
In addition to raising enough for Arnold to obtain an instructor’s certification, Roark has been able to purchase some of the specialized equipment necessary to meet the needs and to accomplish the goals her brother is striving to attain.
Her efforts didn’t stop there. Roark has taken giant steps toward setting up a local Foundation, the Go The Distance Parkinson’s Fund, to benefit Evans and any other person with Parkinson’s disease. She is making this commitment “so that we can become self-sufficient and hopefully be able to help everyone (with Parkinson’s) for years to come,” she said.
Evans cites one of the major benefits he is experiencing with this Rock Steady Boxing program is in his “own confidence.”
“It makes a big difference in your shaking,” he said.
He feels that the atmosphere in the facility is “extremely helpful because whoever’s here has the same problem. We bounce it off each other and it couldn’t be better because you’re with your best friends” with the same concerns and needs.
Arnold agreed. “I think the camaraderie is a big portion of it for sure,” he said.
Roark explained that the Rock Steady Boxing program idea and concept originated from an Indianapolis attorney who also is living with Parkinson’s.
“He took boxing classes hoping that it might help him a little bit, and the amount of help was just amazing, so he decided to start this program,” she said.
The components of the Rock Steady Boxing agenda are comprised of many different physical elements, according to Arnold.
“Guidelines are established by the official Rock Steady Boxing organization, and continuous contact is made to the certified instructors. Then I took my past experiences in boxing and kickboxing, Moi Tai, and cardio workout, mixing it in on top of theirs and we developed our own little twist to Rock Steady here.”
The program’s strong points focus on hand-eye coordination, body balance and verbal communication.
Another benefit of the Rock Steady Boxing program is the improvement in voice proficiency.
“When Mom was sick, Mark and I sat and talked, and Mark talked with a very quiet voice,” said Roark. “I love talking to him today and listening to his voice because his voice has gotten so much stronger again.”
Arnold heaped praise upon Evans’ success in the program.
“Mark has been with me since I started Rock Steady and I’ve seen improvement in his physical capabilities increase 10-fold,” he said. “If I could take him, and have a guy with no Parkinson’s, I’d have a fighter right now ready to go professional.”
Funding and expansion of the Rock Steady Boxing program are goals that Roark, Evans and Arnold are hoping to achieve soon.
“By the middle of the year, we’re going to be firing up another American Karate Do site in Robinson, Illinois, and we want to take Rock Steady with us,” said Arnold.
In a sense, the Rock Steady Boxing program has already begun expansion in reaching the outlying area because Terry Kiefer from Lawrenceville, Illinois, is enrolled at the Vincennes location.
With information his wife had collected during one of her kickboxing sessions, she encouraged her husband to check into the Rock Steady Boxing idea just across the Wabash River. It didn’t take him long to give it a try, get involved and begin his new venture.
Kiefer was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2011 and was experiencing a “lot of fatigue along with slow movement,” he said.
His physician said, “If you don’t use it, you lose it.”
So Kiefer has been “using” it at the corner of 10th and Main.
“I felt better from day one,” he said.
This form of boxing is a non-contact sport — for the person with Parkinson’s disease, that is. They never receive a punch or a blow of any kind.
But Arnold said he and his assistants “suit up, and (the clients) beat the tar out of us!”
The “suit” they wear is actually a large, well-padded vest onto which the boxers throw their punches. To make it more exciting, every time the boxer lands a punch on the vest, a shrill bell sounds to indicate a successful blow has been landed.
“They chase us around the ring and they both have a pretty good right hand,” Arnold said.
Since this is a relatively new concept, Roark suggests that anyone interested in learning more about the Rock Steady Boxing program should go to the Facebook page for information and videos to get a more concise idea of how this activity can be very beneficial, both for the person battling Parkinson’s and for friends and family members who want to help.
Kiefer summed up his feelings on the value of the program when he said, “It’s helping me all around and the support we get is great.”
This assistance comes in both physical and mental ways.
“Parkinson’s won’t kill you,” Kiefer said. “It just aggravates you to death.”
The benefits of exercise, training and friendships both men and others are receiving in the Rock Steady Boxing program are helping them immeasurably to lead more productive, energetic and happier lives.
Evans got the last punch in when he offered his advice to everyone in this area and said, “Just come see us … you’ll like it! You’ll never go home and not feel better than you did when you came; that is just how it works. It’s awesome!”