March 26, 2017 4:49 pm
Updated: March 26, 2017 8:27 pm

Edmontonians battling Parkinson disease use boxing to fight back

WATCH ABOVE: Sports and exercise can help with many health challenges. For a group of Edmontonians with Parkinson disease, boxing has given them a new lease on life. Aaron Streck explains.

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Sport and exercise can help with many health challenges and for a group of Edmontonians battling Parkinson disease, boxing has become that outlet.

The popular combat sport is giving those living with the neurodegenerative disease a new lease on life.

READ MORE: Pilot program pairs professional Edmonton musicians with those living with Parkinson’s

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“It’s something to get up for in the morning,” said Doug Devries, a Boxing for Parkinson’s participant.

About a decade ago, Devries’ life changed forever.

“The doctor was very blunt, he didn’t tell me to sit down or anything, he just said you have Parkinson’s,” Devries said.

A few years after being diagnosed, Devries was forced into early retirement.

He tried yoga and tai-chi to keep active and loosen up muscles stiffened by the disease which affects a person’s movements and often starts with tremors.

Last summer,  Devries turned to boxing and everything changed.

“Gets you to do things, gets you to exercise –  stretching, feeling – I hate to use the term, normal,” Devries said.

That’s how it was for Brad Freysteinson, a former judo black belt. Boxing helped him feel like an athlete again.

“It’s improved my balance, improved my fitness, I like being fit and hitting the bag really hard, it reminds me of my Judo competition in a way, being able to strike really hard and I’m not hurting myself,” Freysteinson said.

Boxing for Parkinson’s began as a two-month pilot project at Avenue Boxing Club and is now a permanent fixture.

“Nothing against the pros, nothing against the kids, they’re putting in a hell of a lot more effort because they are battling other things in their lives,” said Jorge Ravanal, Boxing for Parkinson’s trainer.

Ten thousand Albertans live with Parkinson’s disease and between 6 to 7 million people are affected worldwide.

“We are constantly inspired by the people we serve who take the initiative to get out, make the steps to just get here and then work hard to make sure that they are doing the best that they can to live well with this disease,” said Susan Skaret, with Parkinson Alberta.

It takes about 45 minutes into class before Devries hits his stride.

“You’re not doing the same thing over and over again, one day it could be the speed bag, next day the heavy bag or learning how to step,” Devries said.

There are currently six boxing programs in the province for people with Parkinson disease.

Parkinson Alberta hopes to expand to more communities.

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