David Heimburg’s heavy bag work at a Comox Valley boxing studio does more than just make him sweat.
For Heimburg, the all-out 30-second blitzes are a lot like interval training – but he sees more than just physical differences in his body.
“It really does something to the brain that I didn’t anticipate,” he explains alongside fellow boxer Anne Langdon.
Three years ago, Heimburg was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease – a progressive disorder of the nervous system that affects movement, balance, speech and sensory function.
He says his symptoms developed faster than he had anticipated.
“One thing that slows (them) down is exercise.”
Langdon, who also has Parkinson’s, says the disease progresses differently in each person. She has “barely noticeable” tremors, but explains the symptoms are so much broader than visible physical indications.
“It changes all the time,” she adds. “It’s like we’re growing smaller. I was a newspaper editor, and now there’s times where we don’t know who we are.”
With boxing, Langdon says, you feel like you are somebody. Heimburg agrees, and adds a lot of people only think of Parkinson’s as outward, motor skill symptoms.
“I dread the emotional and cognitive decline. Even now, I can tell that I’m progressively slowing down,” notes Heimburg.
A few months ago, Comox Recreation Centre trainer Jill Nelson – who has been working regularly with a group of people with Parkinson’s – reached out to Comox Valley Boxing Club’s Jonny Mac after learning of an American program combining boxing and individuals with Parkinson’s.
Mac was more than eager to lend a hand.
“I kind of got into it about a year ago when I saw a video on YouTube … it sounded pretty cool but I didn’t know anyone with Parkinson’s. I got a message from Jill who was looking for a space.”
Mac now donates space in his gym every Friday afternoon at 2:30, and with the help of Nelson, donates instruction time – along with a core group of volunteers.
“When they first walked through the door, they were rocking with shakes and quivers, but they want to get better – they’re here for a reason. It puts a big smile on my face.”
Langdon has participated in the boxing classes since the start, and says members “surprise themselves” when they are pushed to perform skills beyond their comfort zone.
“Physically and mentally it helps. It’s a social outlet and a way to fight back from being alone.”
Not only has Mac donated the space and instruction skills, but he has also donated equipment. With the assistance of online auctions, Mac has purchased gloves for the participants and would like to raise more funds.
“There are around 1,100 people in the Valley with Parkinson’s, and I’d like to reach out to as many as possible,” he says.
Both the Parkinson’s support group – which meets at Stevenson Place in Comox on the fourth Tuesday of every month – and the boxing club are “unstructured,” explains Langdon, and adds there is no commitment or any cost involved for either.
Currently, the group is looking to raise $3,000 in order to fully fund one instructor to become certified in the Rock Steady Boxing program.
Rock Steady Boxing is a non-contact, boxing-inspired fitness routine that provides a form of physical exercise to people who are living with Parkinson’s.
For more information about the boxing program or the support group, or to donate, contact Heimburg at: firstname.lastname@example.org