Parkinson’s Disease Awareness Event: Fighting Back

Published: March 30, 2018 | Read Time: 3 minutes

rock steady boxing program cedar cityApril is Parkinson's Disease Awareness Month. To increase and raise public awareness regarding this neurodegenerative disease, Southern Utah University, along with the Southwest Parkinson's Disease Support Group, is hosting a Parkinson's Disease Awareness Event on Wednesday, April 4 from 2:00-4:00 p.m. at Snap Fitness in Cedar City. The event is free and open to the public.

Last fall, Jens Howe, a pre-physical therapy student at SUU, helped launch a non-contact boxing clinic for Iron County residents who are struggling with the disease. In the last six months, Howe has seen improvements in participant's coordination, balance, flexibility and overall well-being. The boxing program isn’t a cure, but it helps slow the disease’s progression. 

The goal of this event is to provide information to the community about Parkinson’s Disease and educate people about SUU’s successful Rock Steady Boxing program, which is managed by student volunteers, the Southwest Parkinson’s Disease Fitness Alliance and SUU’s Rural Health Scholars (RHS) program. The event will showcase the progress participants have made since October, feature information from Intermountain Healthcare, Mike’s Running Store, Brookdale Senior Living and Memory Care, and the Parkinson’s Disease Support Group.

The Southwest Parkinson’s Disease Fitness Alliance was created through SUU’s RHS program and a retired faculty member.

Dan Dail, past department chair of agriculture and nutrition science at SUU, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease in 2009 and struggled to find an effective activity that helped reduce his symptoms. With a drive to stay positive, Dail explored different therapy options.

“An out of town physical therapist brought boxing gloves to a session one day,” said Dail. “Afterwards, he told me I was one of the fastest guys he’s worked with, and I was hooked.”

Dail researched PD boxing programs in Utah, but the closest facility was located more than 200 miles away.  Seeing a need in his community, he brought his idea to RHS and was connected with Howe.

In early 2017, Howe trained with the international organization Rock Steady Boxing and was certified as a non-contact boxing trainer. He learned how PD affects people and that forced exercise is one of the most effective ways to delay the progression of the disease.

Pre-Physical Therapy Student SUU“I want people locally to know that we’re offering those affected by Parkinson’s Disease a way to fight back,” said Howe. “We are committed to providing the help and resources that can be difficult to find in rural communities like ours.”

Boxing-inspired exercise programs are growing in popularity with men and women of all abilities. Research shows these exercises slow the progression of the disease thus enhancing walking ability, flexibility, balance and overall well-being. To date, no medication has been able to do this.

“Jens is one of those rare people who has found the true reward in helping others,” said Dail “He helps out when no one is looking, with no expectation of receiving recognition. He exemplifies the difference between involvement and commitment and will be remembered for his contribution to people with PD in our community and SUU Rural Health Scholars.”

Howe will graduate this spring with plans to enroll in physical therapy school. However, the foundation he’s created for the daily boxing classes will continue. Four students from RHS will be trained and certified through the national Rock Steady Boxing program with certification costs being covered by RHS to ensure the fitness courses’ future success.

“Opportunities to create community-based health programs that our students can manage and operate are vital to the mission our department,” said Karen Ganss, RHS assistant director. “The Southwest Parkinson Disease Fitness Alliance gives students an inside view of what their future will look like working in the medical field. This improves their technical skills, prepares them for admission into graduate healthcare programs and increases their empathy and coping skills while working with individuals suffering from illnesses or long-term disease.”

Currently, classes are offered everyday for an hour and a half with a goal to double the class offerings to meet growing demand. Daily fitness courses involve non-contact boxing and the Lee Silverman Voice Technique-based physical therapy program. Future courses could include yoga and stationary cycling, as well as lectures on topics like nutrition.

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