The fight of their lives

By Allison Marlow
Posted 10/25/17

Most of the people in this room used to be homebound. They feared falling. They couldn’t walk without shuffling. Family members had to help them move their limbs to dress and inch through the day. …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

E-mail
Password
Log in

The fight of their lives

Posted

Most of the people in this room used to be homebound. They feared falling. They couldn’t walk without shuffling. Family members had to help them move their limbs to dress and inch through the day.

Now, Gary Ellis is brought to tears as he watches them move confidently with renewed strength and hope. Together they make up the Rock Steady Boxing at Wheeles Karate Academy in Gulf Shores where they box three times a week and work to strengthen the muscles that Parkinson’s Disease has weakened.

Ellis was diagnosed with Parkinson’s two years ago and decided after much counsel and advice to step away from his role at Compass Media, the business he founded 30 years ago. He focused on fighting the disease’s progression and found that exercise was a key component of slowing the affects.

Rock Steady boxing, a national program, is a non-contact, boxing inspired program that focuses on hand eye coordination, agility, balance, cognitive issues and focus.

Chris and Kristie Wheeles, who own Wheeles Karate Academy, didn’t hesitate to take on the training to become a sanctioned affiliate.

“To see them improve through this program, there was no way I wasn’t going to do this,” Wheeles said. “I love it. It’s a passion for me now.”

Kristie Wheeles said the pair didn’t realize how emotional it would be to be part of the Rock Steady Boxing program.

“They’re just trying to live longer and be with their families but the disease shuts their bodies down,” she said. “Here they can come together and fight. A lot of times the doctors will just give them medicine and send them home. Here, there’s hope.”

In a matter of months the program has grown to include nearly 30 boxers who meet three times a week. Ellis said he has seen friends who used to never leave the house, now come to class without fail. Boxers say the program works.

John Ward, 87, of Foley, said he could barely walk. Now, after participating in Rock Steady boxing, he is steady on his own two feet.

His wife Ruth Ward said the program has made a world of difference.

“Everybody experiences the effects of this disease differently,” she said. “He was just sitting and watching tv. Now this keeps him busy. It’s really needed.”

Jim Beam, of Foley, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s four years ago. He said with the help of Rock Steady Boxing he has been able to get up off the floor on his own for the first time in a long time.

More importantly, however, he is leaving the house and meeting others who are experiencing the same issues.

“It’s great exercise but the social aspect is even better,” he said.

Ellis is on a mission to advocate for the program and open as many affiliates in nearby areas as possible. The program has proven so beneficial that many students in the Gulf Shores class used to drive three to four hours to reach the closest program.

“This is obviously an underserved population,” he said. “The classic support group is sitting around a table. Here, they are actually doing it.

“So many wonderful organizations raise money that goes toward research for the next generation but boxing works on the current person suffering from it,” Ellis said. “In a short period of time they go from limited mobility to having hope. That’s awesome.”