An athletic program designed to help improve the lives of Parkinson’s patients has arrived in Hockessin.

Last month, partners Mandy Weaver and Katie Minnis enrolled their first two students in the Rock Steady Boxing program, in affiliation with Cornerstone Martial Arts at Lantana Square.

The program offers “forced exercise” under the guise of no-contact boxing for people afflicted by Parkinson’s.

Parkinson’s is a progressive, degenerative neurological disorder that is characterized by lost or altered motor function.

While there is no cure for the disease – and with treatment generally centered on lessening the effects – numerous clinical studies have shown that “forced exercise” helps ease the symptoms and improve both mood and motor function.

Minnis noted that while Rock Steady Boxing is an exercise program and not a therapy (it is not covered by insurance), the program can be an important part of the fighter’s network of care.

“Ideally, we’ll be with our fighters several times a week – that means we can be the eyes that notice changes or ears that hear concerns,” Minnis said. “We can then serve to encourage our fighters to seek appropriate medical professionals when a need arises.”

Classes incorporate flexibility, strength, balance, dexterity, core, and hitting heavy bags and boxing mitts, Minnis said, adding that exercises can be accommodated for most levels of symptom progression.

And there’s a reason it’s referred to in clinical studies as “forced exercise,” since there’s a lot of pushing the fighter past their comfort zones.   

“While we will encourage and support our fighters, we will push them as well,” she said. “We know the hard work, sweat and might they put in during the workout will benefit them in so many ways and give them a better quality of life.”

Hockessin resident Wayne Ferrante, a 40-year volunteer with the Hockessin Fire Company and an outspoken Parkinson’s patient, is one of Minnis’s two fighters currently enrolled with the program.

Ferrante spoke about the benefits of the program, noting that he is put through the paces at the gym, with exercises that work the brain and the body.

“You sweat hard and sweat fast,” Ferrante said.

Cornerstone co-owner Rob Kloss said he felt the work Minnis and Weaver are doing is absolutely terrific.

“We are excited that they’re headquartered out of our school,” he said.

With just two fighters currently enrolled, Minnis and Weaver are looking to expand both their membership, as well as find volunteers to help work with their students and give them a motivational push when they need one.

Minnis said they also hope to establish a fund to help offset the cost of the program for those who cannot afford it.

“Mandy and I have a passion for helping people live a quality life through exercise,” Minnis said. “We have a heart for empowering people to fight back while treating them like a person, not simply a person with Parkinson's.”

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