The Valley News has been selected to add two journalists — a photojournalist and a climate and environment reporter — to our newsroom through Report for America, a national service program that boosts local news by harnessing community support.

Please consider donating to this effort.

Boxing, cycling, dance classes help patients fight the effects of Parkinson’s disease

  • ">

    Upper Valley Programs for Parkinson's president Samantha Duford, second from left, and volunteer Dan Naranjo, second from right, direct Ron Fortin, left, of Claremont, N.H., and Bob Lawrie, of Sutton, N.H., during a Rock Steady Boxing class at Carter Community Building Association in Lebanon, N.H., on Friday, Sept. 10, 2021. The exercises used in Rock Steady Boxing are designed to combat specific physical issues associated with Parkinson's, like balance, posture and range of motion. Duford says her favorite aspect of the class is the socialization it offers to participants and their loved ones. "It's an isolating disease." (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News / Report For America — Alex Driehaus

  • Dick Roy, center, of Woodstock, Vt., and Upper Valley Programs for Parkinson's president Samantha Duford, right, demonstrate an exercise during a Rock Steady Boxing class at Carter Community Building Association in Lebanon, N.H., on Friday, Sept. 10, 2021. Upper Valley Programs for Parkinson's offers Rock Steady Boxing classes in person as well as a virtual Pedaling for Parkinson’s class. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News / Report For America photographs — Alex Driehaus

  • Upper Valley Programs for Parkinson's president Samantha Duford, front, leads stretches for class participants, from left, Bob Lawrie, of Sutton, N.H., Bill MacEachern, of Brownsville, Vt., and Dick Roy, of Woodstock, Vt., during a Rock Steady Boxing class at Carter Community Building Association in Lebanon, N.H., on Friday, Sept. 10, 2021. Duford's grandfather had Parkinson's, so she says she has a soft spot for people living with the disease. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Bill MacEachern, left, of Brownsville, Vt., and Judy Fellows, of Rochester, Vt., practice their punches during a Rock Steady Boxing class at Carter Community Building Association in Lebanon, N.H., on Friday, Sept. 10, 2021. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 9/14/2021 9:40:34 PM
Modified: 9/16/2021 7:45:21 PM

LEBANON — When Donna Persico was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease three years ago, she turned to Google to find suggestions for how to manage the neurodegenerative illness for which there is no cure.

Among the things Persico found online was information about a Rock Steady Boxing class in Concord. The 66-year-old Brownsville resident joined the class and attended it there for about a year before it moved to the Carter Community Building Association’s Witherell Recreation Center in Lebanon, where she and a group of about 10 other people with Parkinson’s stretch, punch and otherwise move their way through a weekly 90-minute advanced class taught by Samantha Duford, a physical therapist from Mt. Ascutney Hospital and Health Center.

The class, which is one of two Duford teaches each Friday, has allowed Persico connect with others facing the same life-altering illness, while at the same time allowing her to build strength, work on her balance, boost her energy and challenge her mind.

“This has really helped me,” Persico said as she sat wearing workout clothes and a mask waiting for a class to begin last Friday.

The weekly Rock Steady Boxing classes are part of a suite of classes offered through a new nonprofit, Upper Valley Programs for Parkinson’s, for which Duford serves as president.

In addition to the boxing classes, the group also is offering online “Pedaling for Parkinson’s” cycling classes and plans to offer “Dance for PD” classes once COVID-19 safety precautions can be sorted out.

“I don’t know if there’s anybody else anywhere that’s bringing them under one roof,” said Rick Dickson, the organization’s director and the development director at the CCBA.

The boxing and cycling classes are offered at a price of $10 per class, although the organization has a scholarship program for those who can’t pay that fee, Dickson said. The group, which launched a couple of years ago just prior to the start of the pandemic, has so far raised most of its annual budget of about $50,000 through grants from the Parkinson’s Foundation and the Dorothy Byrne Foundation. The funds go to rent the space at the CCBA, purchase some equipment and pay some of the instructors.

All three of the programs, which have been designed by other organizations, are aimed at slowing the progression of the disease, which although not fatal on its own can become progressively debilitating. About 1 million Americans are living with the disease, a number that’s expected to climb to 1.2 million by 2030, according to the Parkinson’s Foundation.

The four cardinal signs of Parkinson’s are rigidity, posture issues, tremors and slowness, although it presents itself differently in different people, said Duford, whose grandfather had the disease.

John Tomeny, a 70-year-old Hanover resident who sits on the new organization’s board and serves as a ride leader for the cycling program, was leading the cycling class at the Dynamic Natural Athletes Health & Fitness on Hartford Avenue in White River Junction when the pandemic first hit in early 2020.

Tomeny, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2014, halted the in-person class and moved it online beginning in late summer last year.

“Now I have students all over the country,” he said.

He and another instructor, based in Denver, will soon be offering six classes a week. When a third instructor, based in San Francisco, joins them soon, they will offer nine weekly, he said.

Based on the Pedaling for Parkinson’s program started by Dr. Jay Alberts, of the Cleveland Clinic, Tomeny leads participants in a 10-minute warm up and then guides them to a speed that is slightly uncomfortable for them and asks them to stick with it for 40 minutes. The classes end with a 10-minute cooldown, he said.

“A comfortable level sometimes doesn’t get you the results that you really need,” Tomeny said. “We take them to a comfortable level and then get them to push a little more.”

At the CCBA, Duford regularly reminds the boxing class participants to use “big arms” to help their minds to understand what it takes to make the required movement. She asks that they perform stretches or movements using both sides of the body to build coordination and balance.

In addition, Duford said she thinks the class helps address the isolation that some people with Parkinson’s and their caregivers may experience. The disease can be associated with anxiety and depression, she said. So getting out and interacting with other people facing some of the same struggles can help.

For Betsy Warren, a 72-year-old West Lebanon resident who was diagnosed in April, the boxing class has given her the chance to ask questions of other people with the disease while taking on a new athletic pursuit.

“Who knew boxing was so much fun?” Warren, a fit hiker, asked during a brisk walk around the parking lot that the participants in last week’s advanced class took as a warmup.

The class has pushed her to do “things I didn’t know I could do,” she said.

Though medication has “pretty much” resolved the tremor Warren had at the time of her diagnosis and she is otherwise doing “pretty well,” she’s going through many emotions as she adjusts to the knowledge that she has a “life-changing” disease.

Rather than spending a lot of time researching what the future may hold, Warren said she plans to “deal with things as they come,” as she reentered the CCBA for the stretching portion of Friday’s advanced Rock Steady class.

Some wore jogging pants and others jeans, and all wore face masks as they lay on mats pulling knees to chests, twisting and arching their backs as Duford directed. They stood up and reached opposite hand to foot and then did arm circles with “big arms,” as Duford instructed.

Then they put their gloves on and moved into a neighboring room with the punching bags. There, they jabbed, hooked, jumped and jogged in place with periodic exclamations of “Rock Steady!”

“I like punching because you’re releasing a lot of energy,” Persico said.

Some of the movements are also “mentally hard,” she said. Persico, who described the class as “medicine,” said she finds motivation from Duford’s instructions but also by comparing herself to others in the group. If Persico notices, “she’s punching harder than me,” she knows she better step it up.

“When you leave here, you know you’ve had a workout,” she said.

Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at ndoyleburr@vnews.com or 603-727-3213.




Valley News

24 Interchange Drive
West Lebanon, NH 03784
603-298-8711

 

© 2021 Valley News
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy