They’re not afraid to fight

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MOSCOW — Every day, boxers strap on their gloves at the Martin Wellness Center in Moscow.

They are not fighting other boxers.

Their opponent is Parkinson’s disease.

Rock Steady Boxing opened at the Gritman Medical Center building on West Palouse River Drive in December. The high-intensity fitness program is designed to improve the mobility, balance and strength of people fighting Parkinson’s, a progressive nervous system disorder that affects movement.

Donna Grauke, one of the program’s coaches, said there are more than 800 Rock Steady Boxing groups around the world, including one that started in Lewiston in the summer of 2018. But she and her husband, John Grauke, who has the disease, didn’t want to make the trek to the valley multiple times per week.

So she, John Grauke, Wayne Browning and his wife, Eda Browning, traveled to Indianapolis in October of last year to be trained as Rock Steady Boxing coaches.

They returned to the Palouse as certified coaches and started the program in December with a handful of participants. Now, there are about 20 boxers taking classes, Donna Grauke said.

Exercises include noncontact boxing, balance and mobility training, voice activation, strength training and stretching. Donna Grauke said the movements will hopefully alleviate the boxers’ symptoms.

Part of the workout Wednesday morning consisted of circuit training.

Boxers spent one minute at each workout station, which included exercises like jumping rope, hula hooping, jumping jacks and, of course, throwing punches at boxing bags. A ding, like the sound that resonates at the end of a boxing round, sounded at the end of each minute and signaled to the boxers to move to the next workout station.

Wayne Browning, a former boxer, said the program is like a family.

“When you’re actually working and sweating together, that makes a huge difference,” he said.

Browning said he spoke to an 85-year-old with Parkinson’s during his training in Indianapolis. The man’s wife, who was his “corner person” during his Rock Steady Boxing workouts, died three years earlier and Browning asked him how he continued to push forward.

“ ‘It’s the family. This here keeps me going,’” Wayne Browning said the man told him. “So that was really an eye-opener for me to see how important it is for these people with Parkinson’s to have somebody to relate to, somebody that they can lean on, somebody they can talk to that understands what they’re going through and that kind of stuff.”

He said every one of his boxers in the program works hard.

“They don’t come in and goof off,” Browning said. “They know that their life depends on their hard work here, so that’s a real blessing, too.”

He said he coaches them just as if they were boxers preparing for a fight against another boxer.

“The more that they mentally can get through the idea that they are in a fight, the better they have of fighting what they’re fighting, and that’s Parkinson’s,” Browning said.

Mary Jo Penberthy, clinical coordinator at Martin Wellness Center and a Rock Steady Boxing coach, said she is inspired every day by what the boxers can do.

She said one man has trouble walking but that changes when he puts the boxing gloves on.

“When he’s in front of the speed bag, he forgets everything about his disease and he can hit that speed bag without a problem,” Penberthy said.

Bryan Hanson said he was diagnosed with the disease about 10 years ago. He said the boxing program keeps his muscles flexible and it builds great camaraderie with the other boxers who go through the same mental and physical challenges he experiences.

“I think it’s changed my attitude about my illness,” Hanson said.

He said he kept active by walking and lifting weights prior to starting the program, but the exercises at Rock Steady Boxing help improve his symptoms more than his previous workouts.

The classes are 7-8:30 a.m. and 9:15-10:45 a.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and 1:15-2:45 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays.

The program will have an open house from 6-7:30 p.m. Nov. 19. For more information, call (208) 883-9605 or email Moscow@RSBaffiliate.com.

Cabeza can be reached at (208) 883-4631, or by email to gcabeza@dnews.com.

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