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Donor Spotlight: Fighting Parkinson’s disease with Rock Steady Boxing

Generosity enhances boxing experience

Less than one year ago, Praveen Martinez-Singh could not stand in place for more than a couple of seconds. That was one impact Parkinson’s disease was having on the 30-year-old’s body – his balance was deteriorating.

This is a terrible, debilitating disease and the generous people in our community are not only giving us hope, they are giving us a community of fellow fighters who can support, laugh and yes, even cry with each other.

Diagnosed at 17, Praveen struggled to accept what was happening to his body and avoided social situations because he did not want to explain his involuntary jaw spasms or slowed speech. 

“After a bad fall in the shower in which I knocked the doors entirely off its hinges, I was looking for anything that would improve my balance,” Praveen said. “My balance has progressively gotten worse since deep brain stimulation surgery in 2012. There are situations where I can't rely on QB, my mobility service dog, such as in the shower. I had already given up driving — no way I was going to give up more independence. I felt as if I was fast approaching a wheelchair at 29 years old.”

Then, in the summer of 2017, Praveen started participating in Rock Steady Boxing™ through Memorial Rehab Services at Kerasotes YMCA.

“I was a little apprehensive and nervous,” Praveen remembers. “I did not know what to expect. After the initial evaluation, Josh, one of the coaches, placed me in the level four class, which is for the fighters most effected by Parkinson’s. I saw it as a goal, to make it to the top class (level one). I did not know how tough it would be, but I was going to do it no matter what.”

Memorial Rehab Services began offering Rock Steady Boxing in March 2017. Josh Grant is one of two certified Rock Steady Boxing coaches. 

“Physically it helps improve symptoms of Parkinson’s, such as balance, hand-eye coordination, rhythm and stride length. Emotionally it helps them come out of their shell,” Josh said. “Prior to joining the program, I speak with the participant and their family members. A lot of them are depressed and emotionally drained. This program gives them a shoulder to lean on, to see they are not the only ones out there with this terrible disease. They make friends and start to have an outlet for frustration.”

Lives are changing because of this program and people have started supporting it by donating to Memorial Medical Center Foundation. Thanks to that generosity, a variety of additional equipment was purchased, including ropeless jump ropes, two punching bags, 36-inch hoops, a chest and rib protector and a rowing machine. 

“The new equipment is amazing. I speak for all the boxers when I say this — thank you for the donations that allowed us to get this new equipment,” Praveen said. “It has improved the experience immensely. I recall the day we got the equipment a fellow fighter saying, ‘It feels like Christmas all over again!’”

While the physical improvements he has realized in less than 12 months are impressive, it is the camaraderie between the fighters that Praveen likes most about Rock Steady Boxing. 

“When one of us is having an off day, we pick up each other physically and emotionally. We are all fighting the same disease. It may manifest itself differently in each fighter, but we have common experiences. Experiences that are uniquely shared between us,” he said. “It’s hard to describe the feeling I get when I am punching a heavy bag as hard as I can and I am surrounded by fighters giving it their all.”  

Even though Praveen has achieved a place in the level one class, the past year had its challenges. Especially for his competitive nature. 

“When I started Rock Steady, I couldn't even throw a cross punch without getting off balance. I would throw my hardest cross to the heavy bag, knock myself off balance and go flying back and Josh would have to catch me,” he remembered. “After that first class, I remember thinking ‘What did I get myself into?’”

Praveen’s determination and desire to be more confident on his feet has kept him coming back each week. 

“On my own, I would do footwork drills that Josh showed me how to do. Eventually, I could feel myself getting into better shape,” he said. “This program, for me, is truly a godsend. It has not only improved my balance immensely but improved my spatial awareness, motor ability, core strength and posture.” 

Josh thinks the future is bright for Rock Steady Boxing through Rehab Services. There are more than 35 boxers participating in the four levels of classes and referrals come in weekly thanks to neurologists in Springfield. Josh knows additional equipment will be needed as more classes are added. He would also like to see a scholarship program established so those on a fixed income are able to participate.

Josh’s passion for Rock Steady isn’t just because it’s part of his job. It is personal — his father had Parkinson’s disease. 

“He worked his whole life as a farmer and gave so much. If this program was something I could have put him in, I would have. I've seen how much it has helped others and I am proud to run it,” Josh said. “To those who have donated to Rock Steady, you are helping people who have this terrible disease heal physically and mentally. You are helping many of the caregivers and family members heal emotionally.”

Praveen also is appreciative of the generosity to the program.

“Rock Steady Boxing has truly given me a new lease on life. By supporting these fighters, donors are doing what no doctor or medication can accomplish. This is a terrible, debilitating disease and the generous people in our community are not only giving us hope, they are giving us a community of fellow fighters who can support, laugh and yes, even cry with each other.”

To contribute to the Rock Steady Boxing fund through Memorial Medical Center Foundation, visit the Make a Gift Now page or call the Foundation at 217-788-4700.

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