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The Fight Never Stops: Rock Steady Boxing gives those affected by Parkinson’s the power to punch back | South County Life Magazine

For the athletes at Rock Steady Boxing East Greenwich, they all have something beyond their love for non-contact boxing that unites them: Parkinson’s disease.

Rock Steady Boxing East Greenwich (RSBEG) uses a non-contact boxing-based fitness curriculum to help reduce or delay the progression of symptoms for individuals with any level of Parkinson’s disease. Although the exercises do not involve contact like typical boxing, the non-contact boxing therapy program uses the boxing principles of agility, strength, balance and flexibility training.

Carolyn Kosiba-Quiterio, RSBEG owner and program director, said the goal of the program is to use these non-contact boxing techniques to help those who live with Parkinson’s improve their quality of life.

“You will see differences in their overall personality [and] body language within eight to twelve weeks,” Kosiba-Quiterio said. “When I’m told that an athlete started singing in the car again or whistling to a song, engaging in activities once again with their grandchildren or got back out on that golf course, it makes my heart fill with joy that I have been such a facet of their improvement.”

According to Parkinson’s Foundation website, Parkinson’s disease is a neurodegenerative disorder that affects dopamine producing neurons. With varying dopamine levels, this can gradually develop to movement-related symptoms, like limb rigidity and balance problems, and non-movement symptoms, like depression and cognitive impairment. Although there is no cure, physical therapy can be part of the extensive treatment process.

“Parkinson’s is a neurological movement disorder and we need to educate individuals on the importance of getting exercise and moving,” Kosiba-Quiterio said. “Without specialized movement, cognition, and flexibility therapy, individuals could lead a life full of discomfort and pain. We are here to give them a better quality of life so they can play with their grandchildren, engage in a golf game with friends, go have lunch or dinner without feeling self-conscious.”

The training helps with the athletes’ neuroplasticity, which is the brain’s ability to form and reorganize neural networks, Kosiba-Quiterio said. By using non-contact boxing techniques, it can also improve the athletes’ reaction time, posture and fine motor skills, as well as lead to better cognitive processing.

“Boxing assists with firing up the neurotransmitters within the body and sending dopamine to the brain,” she said. “This helps with that ‘feel good’ attitude, confidence and a sense of accomplishment after an exercise class.”

A typical RSBEG class will have a warm-up, boxing, strengthening and conditioning exercises, and then end with a cooldown. Every class is different, but boxing remains at the core of the programming. The classes vary in size for numerous reasons including the athlete’s progression of the disease, injuries and doctor appointments.

“Strength exercises, such as resistance, assist in engaging those muscles to become stronger, practicing balance helps with precision of walking, cognitive skills engage the brain to coordinate what your body is doing, which all leads the athlete to become more confident,” Kosiba -Quiterio said.

The East Greenwich affiliate is one of many Rock Steady Boxing locations. According to the official Rock Steady Boxing website, the non-profit organization was founded in 2006 by former Indiana Prosecutor Scott C. Newman, who was diagnosed with early-onset Parkinson’s. His friend, Vince Perez, used his experience as a Golden Gloves boxer to design a program that helps fight the symptoms of Parkinson’s. This program would become Rock Steady Boxing.

All the Rock Steady Boxing affiliates are independently owned and operated. Kosiba-Quiterio has been the Owner and Program director of the East Greenwich location for three years now.

Kosiba-Quiterio became aware of Rock Steady Boxing in 2016. At the time, she was a senior health and wellness director at a different company and taught kickboxing and bootcamp classes. She said members of the Parkinson’s community told her about Rock Steady Boxing and she knew she had to join the program.

“I was intrigued by what I saw in these individuals and how it could give others a fighting chance,” she said.

Sandi MacLeod became an RSBEG athlete in summer 2019. Since joining, MacLeod has become stronger than ever, both mentally and physically.

“Your body will thank you, you will be more upright, smile more, move better, have less fatigue and you’ll lose weight,” MacLeod said.

As a result of her training, MacLeod has reversed some of her symptoms.

“[RSBEG] You have helped me be a stronger, more confident person in my fight against a disease that has no cure or pill to slow progression. The exercise is our medicine…,” MacLeod said. “It’s a win-win. You can’t stay idle; the disease will win if you do.”

Nancy Tierney joined RSBEG in July 2020. One of her favorite parts of being an RSBEG athlete is the sense of camaraderie from her fellow athletes.

“RSBEG offers ready access to a community of peers that all understand what it means to deal with [Parkinson’s disease],” Tierney said. “We can share information about treatment, doctors, interventions, what helps and what has not helped. We support and encourage each other.”

Tierney emphasized that those with Parkinson’s need to exercise to help keep their symptoms at bay. She has also noted improvement since beginning her RSBEG journey.

“I have definitely improved in many areas where I was struggling prior to joining ROSBEG,” Tierney said. “Due to Carolyn’s focused exercises, my balance is getting better. My upper body strength also has increased, as well as my stamina. Equally important, my emotional health is much more resilient due to working out and spending time with people who understand and care about me as an individual.”

Kosiba-Quiterio said all athletes must be engaged in the exercise therapy and need the desire to progress. As for her 70 current athletes, their determination and tenacity inspire her daily.

“They are dealing with a disease that presents so many challenges that can change from day to day,” Kosiba-Quiterio said. “They are determined, hardworking and grateful for having this place to call home. They always enter the doors of the facility with a ‘can do’ attitude, motivated, and energetic to learn the next new move or technique. They fight for themselves, their families, and their friends. No matter if it’s a good or bad day, they show up.”

At the end of the day, Kosiba-Quiterio said she and her staff are dedicated to helping the athletes become the best versions of themselves.

“We are here to help our athletes fight back,” Kosiba-Quiterio said.

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