A while back, I started to notice a difference in my body. After a two-year search to identify and diagnose my symptoms, I finally got a confirmed diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease (PD) in September 2021. This diagnosis was not unexpected, as my older brother had passed away with Parkinson’s five years earlier. My brother had lived with PD for more than 30 years, and he introduced me to the Parkinson’s Foundation.
After I received my diagnosis, I immediately began to search for a gym where I could get out of the house and get some exercise. I was in touch with the Jewish Community Center in Tampa but had not yet joined any of their programs. By the end of September, I became a member of the Jewish Community Center’s Philip Shayman Parkinson’s Program and began the Rock Steady Boxing class immediately. I was not sure I could even participate in exercises due to my low energy, lack of strength and tremors.
The first person I met in the boxing class was Sam Scaff, a volunteer who was coaching the class about boxing techniques. Sam is a retired heavyweight boxer who had boxed professionally. He was instructing the class on boxing techniques designed to help with agility, strength and balance. Sam had been volunteering for this class for over three years and felt it was a calling for him, even though he does not have PD himself.
When I started the class, I was very tired and weak, but I instantly felt like this class was the right place for me. We met twice weekly, and Sam was always there to help us get the moves right. He was very reassuring, helpful and was always joking with me. We became good friends at the gym, but soon that friendship began to blossom. The JCC’s boxing class days became my favorite days of the week! With Parkinson’s disease you often lose social ties, but Rock Steady Boxing gave me the opportunity for not only exercise but also socialization with my peers. I have started a beautiful new relationship with Sam, and I also made many new friends in my classes who all share a common goal: BEAT PARKINSON’S!
In October 2022 I had my annual check-up, and my neurologist was amazed at my incredible progress. My gait, strength, balance and energy had all improved greatly. The Rock Steady Boxing program has allowed me to regain so much energy and strength that I am now able to socialize and maintain my relationship with Sam, as well as being able to play an active role in the lives of my three grandchildren. Exercise is truly the key to managing Parkinson’s. I encourage my peers to challenge themselves to exercise daily — you will feel much better.
Sam is still assisting the class with boxing techniques, and our relationship has grown into a wonderful and supportive pairing. Without the Philip Shayman’s Parkinson’s Program classes, I would have never met Sam or improved my physical and mental health. I tell everyone that exercise is the best thing you can do for Parkinson’s disease. Sam and I walk, box and continue to write our bucket list every day. I hope you will too!