Sudbury boxing coach wants Parkinson's sufferers to fight back

A well-known Sudbury boxing coach is taking on the fight against Parkinson's disease.

Rock Steady boxing program helps patients battle symptoms

Chris Sheridan and Gord Apolloni are working to bring Rock Steady, a boxing program for people suffering from Parkinson's Disease, to Sudbury. (Wendy Bird/CBC)

A well-known Sudbury boxing coach is taking on the fight against Parkinson's disease.

Gord Apolloni is working to establish Rock Steady Boxing, an American non-profit organization that sets up a therapeutic boxing regimen for people with Parkinson's, in the city.

Parkinson's is a degenerative movement disorder which deteriorates a person's motor skills, balance, speech and sensory functions.

The forced, intense exercise of the Rock Steady program can reduce or delay the symptoms of the disease, the company says.

No contact, but challenging

And Apolloni is more than happy to use his 30-plus years of coaching experience to contribute.

Gord Apolloni coached Canada's national boxing team in the 1990s. (Wendy Bird/CBC)

"It's a non-contact program, so there are heavy bags, speed bags, double end bags out there that mimic an actual opponent," Apolloni said.

"There's no contact, but you're still trying to hit, because it's even harder to hit double end balls, it's very challenging."

Apolloni said that boxing legend Muhammad Ali's battle with the disease and his endurance through its effects inspired him to lend a hand.

"In all aspects Ali maintained his training, and slowed the actual onset of Parkinson's," Apolloni said. "So why not let's all do it?"

Chris Sheridan, founder of Sudbury's House of Kin, is working alongside Apolloni, who refers to him as the "spokesperson for Parkinson's here in Sudbury."

"When I heard this program was coming to Canada, I said, 'we have a facility that can certainly support us and provide guidance to become a reality,'" Sheridan said.

Sheridan, who has Parkinson's, said boxing can help people relieve some of their frustrations as the disease takes it toll on the body, and simple tasks — like composing a letter or going for groceries — become a challenge.

Chris Sheridan says he wants to get Rock Steady established in Sudbury soon. (Wendy Bird/CBC)

"It can be frustrating, especially with balance," Sheridan said. "And it's embarrassing when you're standing in a grocery take out line and suddenly you're frozen, you can't move, you have to ask someone to pull you so you can turn and run away."

Despite feeling the effects of Parkinson's, Sheridan said he's focussing his efforts on getting the Rock Steady program established in the city.

"I hope to be able to be able to see my lovely family for the next five to 10 years. We've lost a few good people over the last few years, makes you appreciate life more and more."

Next opponent: funding

Apolloni said he hopes the program will be up and running at full speed by the fall. The only roadblock, he said, is funding.

"We need funding to train our instructors, get them certified in working with people with Parkinson's," Apolloni said. "Especially at the different stages of the disease."

"There's no cure, so the best thing we can do is just either stagnate it, stop it in its tracks, or slow it down. Any of those will make a big difference in a person's life."

With files from Wendy Bird


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