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Rock Steady Boxing

Former world champion Austin Trout teaches boxing class for Parkinson's patients

Austin Trout leads Bob Skolnick, right, and Jon Roberts, left, through various punching combinations during a Rock Steady Boxing class on Friday, Aug. 2.
Austin Trout leads Bob Skolnick, right, and Jon Roberts, left, through various punching combinations during a Rock Steady Boxing class on Friday, Aug. 2.
Bulletin photo by Alexia Severson

LAS CRUCES - Las Crucens living with Parkinson’s disease are making strides in their mental and physical health through a local boxing class taught by former super welterweight world champion Austin “No Doubt” Trout.

Rock Steady Boxing No Doubt Training Academy in Las Cruces is an affiliate of Rock Steady Boxing, a nonprofit focused on helping people with Parkinson’s disease nationwide through non-contact boxing-based fitness curricula.

“[Boxing] builds different neurological pathways and it also rebuilds some damage there … there are some things that aren’t connecting [in Parkinson’s patients],” Trout said. “We help bridge the gap to make it connect, and it helps with their coordination, their cognitive skills, their motor skills, their agility and their overall fitness.”

Trout, who got certified as a Rock Steady Boxing instructor in Miami earlier this year, became interested in helping people with Parkinson’s when he learned that boxing could help improve symptoms of the disease, which include slowed movement, rigid muscles, involuntary shaking, speech and writing changes, poor balance and problems with coordination.

“I heard that boxing helps with Parkinson’s patients back in like 2005,” Trout said. “It was a Floyd Mayweather Jr., [Oscar] De La Hoya fight and De La Hoya’s coach, Freddie Roach, he has Parkinson’s and they were showing a documentary and he was saying the only reason he was able to function is because of the boxing workouts he does.”

Several years later, fellow world champion fighter Steve Cunningham posted about a Parkinson’s boxing class he held on social media. Trout reached out to him and began taking the steps to get certified.

Coincidentally, the Parkinson’s Disease Support Group of Southern New Mexico had been searching for someone to teach Rock Steady Boxing in Las Cruces. The classes were taught in El Paso, but it was too far for many of the support group members to drive.

“We tried for over two years to get Rock Steady Boxing here and we finally did,” said Jon Roberts, co-leader of the local Parkinson’s disease support group. “…The fact that you’re working with a professional boxer, such as Austin Trout, I think we have a leg up on our other Parkinson’s counterparts elsewhere. Also, Austin is still active in the profession and he can let slip out some of his finer points.”

According to the Parkinson’s Foundation, about 60,000 Americans are diagnosed with Parkinson’s each year. While there is no cure for the disease, studies have shown that rigorous exercise can improve symptoms and may even slow the progression of the disease, according to rocksteadyboxing.org.

Roberts, 66, diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2003, has been attending Trout’s Rock Steady Boxing class since it began in March. Roberts said not only has the class helped improve his symptoms, getting him to work specific muscles, but it is also a fun challenge.

“There’s competition, but it’s within yourself,” he said.

Bob Skolnick, 73, also a member of the support group, said he started doing Rock Steady Boxing several years ago in El Paso. He made the switch to Las Cruces when Trout began teaching classes locally.

“Austin is a professional fighter, so he automatically knows how to exercise his body and use the hand and brain coordination,” Skolnick said. “It’s been a very positive experience for me.”

“It’s just good physical exercise and it's not a routine thing,” he added. “…Every day is a different day. Austin varies the course.”

Many of the activities in Trout’s Rock Steady Boxing class address specific symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.

“In the beginning [of class] we do a get-to-know-you, or a joke or a tongue twister,” Trout said. “One of the symptoms [of Parkinson’s disease] is their diaphragm gets weak and they are hard to hear; they don’t project as well, so we do things to kind of strengthen the diaphragm – breathing exercises and techniques to expand the lungs.”

The class also focuses on boxing technique, hitting the mitts and bags and cardio activities like jumping rope.

“We’re constantly using our brain and body movement,” said Sarah Stegall, Rock Steady Boxing member and co-leader of the Parkinson’s support group. “And for me, to use my brain, my hands and then to get my feet involved, it’s a challenge to do it all at once. So, that’s what we’re doing – we’re making the brain communicate with the rest of our body.”

Along with physical exercise, the classes also provide an opportunity to meet others with Parkinson’s disease, Trout said.

“This is kind of a community – they have a comraderie,” he said. “What I’ve learned is that Parkinson’s can be a very isolating disease. You don’t have the control of your face, your voice, you have the shakes, you don’t want people looking at you, and they come and deal with other people that are in the same boat.”

Prices for the Rock Steady Boxing classes are $8 per session, $70 per month or $60 per month for members who pay for classes three months in advance. Sponsor programs are available to those who need it.

“We don’t turn anybody away,” Trout said.

Rock Steady Boxing classes are held at 8:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday at Las Cruces PAL Boxing, 700 N. Solano Drive. For information, call 575-650-0351 or visit nodoubt.rsbaffiliate.com.

To learn more about the Parkinson’s Disease Support Group of Southern New Mexico, call Stegall at 575-496-2550 or visit pdsgsnm.org or facebook.com/PDSGSNM.

Alexia Severson may be contacted at alexia@lascrucesbulletin.com.