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Fighting Back: Rock Steady Boxing Benefits Parkinson’s Patients
By Cody Moore, Photography by Kayla Broadway

This month, St. Bernards Health & Wellness will kick off Rock Steady Boxing, a unique boxing exercise program strategically designed to help those who are affected by Parkinson’s disease.

Owned by St. Bernards Medical Center, St. Bernards Health & Wellness has been one of Jonesboro’s premier fitness facilities since opening its doors in 2011. Health & Wellness’ mission directly ties in with St. Bernards Healthcare’s overall mission, which is to provide Christ-like healing to the community through education, treatment and health services.

Health & Wellness offers an array of classes, including exercise fitness classes, individualized personal training, nutritional sessions, competitive event training and specialized athletic training for adults and children, as well as a wide variety of health and wellness programs. Health & Wellness’ team of 58 employees and nine certified personal trainers are always prepared to assist guests with their wellness journey.

“Health & Wellness is proud to offer the most classes of any facility in Northeast Arkansas,” said Health & Wellness Director Paul Pickens. “All of our instructors are certified, and all of our trainers hold either a bachelor’s or master’s degree and are certified in their respective fields. We have a one-of-a-kind 12-week cancer medical exercise treatment plan, the only one in Arkansas. We’ll be starting this same type of program for cardiac rehab patients this month.”

On Jan. 1, Health & Wellness will also introduce a program that is the first of its kind in Northeast Arkansas; Rock Steady Boxing (RSB) is a non-contact boxing exercise program developed in Indianapolis in 2012. The RSB program at Health & Wellness is one of more than 700 RSB affiliate programs in the world.

“We are thrilled about this program coming to Health & Wellness, as it gives people who have Parkinson’s an option to fight against this terrible disease,” said Pickens. “Before now, there weren’t many options available here for them. We’re so excited to bring this to Northeast Arkansas to let our community know they can fight against this disease.”

Being a medical fitness facility, Health & Wellness has made it a goal to provide the community with access to programs that work to improve the quality of life. Pickens predicts that the RSB program will help hundreds of Parkinson’s patients in Northeast Arkansas in the coming years.

“We are going to start with offering four classes, which are each designed based on the person’s ability,” said Pickens. “We will start with holding part one and part two classes together and part three and part four together. Each person will complete an assessment before starting class to determine his or her level. We expect demand to grow and will build classes according to the levels of classes needed.”
Health & Wellness currently has five coaches who are certified to teach the RSB program. Students at the New York Institute of Technology (NYIT) Jonesboro campus are also able to volunteer their time to the program.

“As we were looking into this, Leith Hobbs, then a second-year medical student with NYIT, brought us a plan to partner with the new medical school at A-State to begin the program and use medical students as volunteers,” said Pickens. “It was a perfect fit, and he has been instrumental in helping identify more than 50 student volunteers who will act as corner men for the Parkinson’s participants during each class.”

Keyston Beamon, Health & Wellness’ group exercise coordinator since 2016, was one of the first employees to visit the RSB headquarters in Indianapolis. There, he attended a two-day learning seminar in order to receive a certification that permits him to coach the boxing program.

“I wanted to be a part of Rock Steady Boxing when I saw the huge need for this type of program in this area,” said Beamon. “Once I researched the concepts and ideals of the program, I was really excited to go and learn as much as I could to bring Rock Steady to Jonesboro.”

A typical RSB class is an hour-long workout consisting of stretching, voice activation, various boxing exercises, Parkinson’s-specific functional training and core work. Parkinson’s patients of all ages will have the opportunity to use professional boxing equipment such as boxing gloves, heavy bags, body shields and speed bags during the class.

“Through the Rock Steady Method, patients will work to slow down the progression of the disease and the symptoms they face,” said Beamon. “The working of coordination, strength, muscular endurance and balance through boxing will allow patients to achieve things that they may have thought impossible with Parkinson’s disease.

“To be able to give those in our area who are diagnosed with Parkinson’s an opportunity to fight back is amazing.”

Two local Parkinson’s patients who are currently RSB students at Health & Wellness, Ronald Schneider and Martha Fitts, are appreciative of the new program and optimistic about the benefits it will bring.

“I want to be more stable for as long as possible,” said Schneider. “With the help of Rock Steady Boxing, I will be able to work on my balance, making it easier for me to walk.”

Fitts says the RSB program has the potential to give Parkinson’s patients a chance at living a better, healthier life through exercise.
“Since my diagnosis, I have realized exercising is the best medicine,” said Fitts. “When I heard about Rock Steady Boxing, I was excited to participate because the program targets the Parkinson’s symptoms that challenge me daily. This will be a new opportunity that will challenge me to further my skills to fight back against Parkinson’s and live my life to the fullest. Research shows evidence that RSB improves one’s health and can reduce Parkinson’s symptoms. I look forward to being a participant.”

For those who are interested in the RSB program and want the opportunity to learn more, Health & Wellness will host RSB orientation events on the first Friday of each month.

“During the orientations, we will have an overview of what Rock Steady Boxing is and show videos of what a class looks like,” said Pickens. “Also, we will explain to participants about the requirements of the program, which are that they must have a diagnosis of Parkinson’s and must complete an assessment before they start. These orientation events will also provide an opportunity for participants and family members to ask us any questions they may have about the program.”

This month’s RSB orientation will take place on Jan. 4 at 10:30 a.m. at Health & Wellness, 1416 E. Matthews Ave., and is open to the public.

“My hope for the future of this program is that when people in our community are diagnosed with Parkinson’s, they know about Rock Steady Boxing and know we are here to offer them a chance to fight,” said Pickens. “They have a community of people at St. Bernards Health & Wellness who will be fighting with them to help maintain and improve their quality of life with Parkinson’s.”

“Unfortunately, Parkinson’s disease won’t take any time off, so we don’t plan on taking any time off either,” added Beamon. “Hopefully, we are able to provide classes for any and everyone who wants the opportunity to fight back. Community support and awareness will be a huge part in getting this RSB program to its peak.”

For more information on the Rock Steady Boxing program or St. Bernards Health & Wellness, visit stbernardswellness.com, call (870) 207-7700 or visit the Health & Wellness facility at 1416 E. Matthews Ave.