Parkinson's patients use boxing to fight back

ALTMAR, N.Y. -- Cookie Green never thought she would find herself in a boxing gym, especially after she was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease in September of 2014.

"Your world kind of caves in on you at that point," she said.

She lives in Altmar and drives about forty five minutes each way to get her workout in at Rock Steady Boxing in Liverpool.

"I thoroughly believe in exercise as medication," Green said.

She's one of Jeannette Riley's first students since Riley started offering classes in the Syracuse area last summer.

"It's about getting fit, feeling good about yourself and fighting back," Riley said.

These boxers aren't worried about landing a perfect right hook, they're focused on fighting a life-altering disease.

"Boxers train to help with their balance, their agility, their strength, their hand eye coordination," Riley explained.

Rock Steady Boxing says it's the first gym in the country dedicated to fighting Parkinson's.

A 2012 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine finds Parkinson's patients who did six months of Tai Chi twice a week had better balance and control over their movements and were less likely to fall.

Riley says she's trying to take a similar approach with boxing, saying workouts like this can delay and reduce physical challenges brought on by the disease.

"It's taking control back in your life from something that is trying to take it away," Riley said.

"It definitely improved my life. I'm a lot steadier when I walk. When I first started the program I used to walk with a cane," Cookie Green said.

After only a few months in the program...

"I don't remember the last time I used a cane," she smiled.

Green also says her work at Rock Steady helps her manage symptoms that can't always be seen.

"One of the side affects from this Parkinson's Disease is anxiety, depression, but nothing better than hitting this thing and getting all your frustration out," Green said.

The class can also serve as a support group.

"Quite honestly, a person who doesn't have it doesn't have any idea what you're talking about. This way at least you feel like somebody understands me which is really important for inside," said Green.

"I didn't think doing something like this could be so rewarding," Jeannette Riley said.

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