Boxing Helps Parkinson's Patients 'Fight Back'

Baihly Warfield
Updated: February 25, 2020 10:35 PM

On a sunny Tuesday morning, 17 beginner boxers throw jabs and hooks at punching bags scattered around CrossFit Duluth. 


These boxers have some extra motivation. Each has been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. 

"There was always something on my left side. My left side was dragging," Lowell Weberg said.

The 67-year-old tried to dodge the symptoms. 

"My wife and I went out for supper one night, and she said, 'How come you're shaking?' I said, 'Oh, I don't know, guys, we just shake, you know?'" Weberg recalled. "She said, 'No, we're going to the doctor.' And that's when they diagnosed me with Parkinson's."

Parkinson's affects the central nervous system, causing tremors, stiffness and coordination issues. Weberg also struggles with balance. 

He started attending a Parkinson's support group, a resource 71-year-old Margaret Honigman also turned to after her diagnosis five and a half years ago.

"Any information you get on Parkinson's, the first thing they say is exercise to help slow progression," Honigman said. 

At the support group and a Parkinson's dance class, Weberg and Honigman heard about an intriguing new opportunity to throw a punch at Parkinson's. CrossFit Duluth was starting a Boxing Against Parkinson's class.

"It's great fun," Honigman said. "I can't wait until my kids see me as a boxer." 

She had never boxed before. That's the case with most people in the class. And CrossFit Duluth owner Dale Collison had never designed a class like this before. 

"It just really aligned with our beliefs and what we do and why we're here," Collison said. "We're here to help people." 

He's learning as much from the 17 Parkinson's patients in the class as they are from him. 

"I think about all the things they need to work on, you know, balance, coordination, agility, and just getting them moving," he said. 

But boxing also involves a bit of memorization: 1 means jab with your left hand, 2 is cross, 3 is left hook, 4 is right hook. 

"The thing that did surprise me was the thinking part," Honigman said. "You know, when he says, 'Do 1, 3,' you have to do 1, 3. And it's like, wait a minute."

The combinations connect brain and body. And if anyone needs some motivation, Weberg is there to shout, "Fight back!," reminding them why they're there. 

"A lot of times I come in the door and I'm ready to start hollering right away. 'Fight back!,' you know? Because that's how we're going to cure this is fight back, you know?" he said, "keep working at it and fight back." 

A national nonprofit called Rock Steady Boxing creates programs geared specifically toward Parkinson's patients. Collison and CrossFit Duluth are working toward becoming an official Rock Steady Boxing gym. For now, he calls his version "Boxing Against Parkinson's." 

"Don't tell the rest of my classes, but it's one of my favorites," Collison said. 

People can join the class anytime. They meet for an hour at 10:30 a.m. on Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. It costs $60 a month. 


Baihly Warfield

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