Counterpunch to Parkinson’s: Program aims at improving quality of life


Walk into the Marco Y gymnasium on any given Monday, Wednesday or Friday morning, and you’ll see many faces of Parkinson’s disease.

But here’s the thing: They’re determined faces as Y specialists Hannah Heidenreich and Lee Pinkham put the 30-or so people through an hour-long set of exercises designed to improve their physical well-being and quality of life.

Grandmom of 16, Helen Klatt, and retired scientist Bob Gelman work together at Rock Steady Boxing.

All are resolute in their quest to counteract the degenerative neurological disorder. And they’re more than happy to talk about it, as well as the benefits of the program.

“They’re absolutely terrific,” said 6’5” Bob Concannon of the sessions, which incorporate “Rock Steady” boxing, throwing outsize rubber balls to fellow program participants, stretching, walking and calisthenics with rubber ropes.

“I (first) came here two years ago, and (later) my son said it was the best I’ve looked in a long time. He said they whipped me into shape,” Concannon says.

Bob Concannon launches an oversize rubber ball, which is part of the Parkinson’s exercise program at the Y.

“They do it so your joints don’t get punished,” he adds. It takes a few weeks to get up to speed, but once you do, you feel like a million.”

Among the program participants is R.J. Brockmann, who’s something of an in-house celebrity because he’s in great shape; and because he’s 90-years old and looking forward to hitting 91 in February.

But, like everyone else doing these thrice-weekly sessions, he’s honest about the realities of Parkinson’s.

Volunteer Sharon Lewis, left, and program coordinator Hannah Heidenreich share one of the positive moments that characterize the sessions.

“I get a little wobbly when it comes to throwing balls up in the air,” Brockmann said. “I find I can’t throw and maintain my balance. So, I like the boxing for strength, endurance, and balance.”

Business owner Tom Sebastian, now in his early 70s, was diagnosed about 7 years ago.

“I knew there was something wrong,” he said. “My wife also told me that I had a fixed facial expression. I went to a doctor and got a diagnosis.”

Sebastian sums up the frustration of the disease’s effects by saying: “Most people find they have difficulty with things they used to take for granted.”

Program participant R.J. Brockmann, 90, and volunteer helper Sharon Lewis take a breather after an energetic session on the punch bag.

Here, he refers to altered gait, difficulty in choosing the right word “to say at the right time” in conversations, and sometimes sleeping.

But through it all, Sebastian probably echoes the attitudes to life of all the Rock Steady Boxing program members.

“Life, I love it,” he says. “I’m ready to go anywhere. I have a great wife and kids.”

Volunteer program assistant Sharon Lewis calls the participants warriors.

A shirt slogan radiates the positive message of the program.

“They give me so much motivation, working hard every day to make their health better,” she says. “They’re an inspiration to us all.”

If, decades ago, there might have been any stigma attached to Parkinson’s disease, that’s no longer the case.

“We’re not treated differently. People are always nice,” says retired scientist Bob Gelman. “And, If someone offers to help me with something like steps, I let them help me and thank them.”

R.J. Brockmann, 90, works out during a Marco Y “Rock Steady Boxing” program designed for people with Parkinson’s disease.


Homemaker, mom-of-six and grandmother of 16, Helen Klatt, says talking about Parkinson’s can be beneficial to society.

“If you talk about it, you might help someone else,” she says.

For more information on Rock Steady Boxing, as well as the wide variety of activities and programs for youth and adults, visit or acquire the app. Otherwise call 394-3144.