“The Pittsburgh Kid” Billy Conn. “Sugar” Ray Robinson. “Smokin” Joe Frazier. Willie Pep, Floyd Patterson, and of course, Muhammad Ali.
These seemingly-indestructible men – along with other pugilists, have lived with Parkinson’s Disease, which can rob them of their coordination, cause defects in speech, blur vision, disturb sleep, stunt memory, and cause tremors of the limbs, neck, and head.
Former Toledo-area boxer Harry Cummins knows this, so the coach and promoter, throwing his hat into the ring to lend a hand in the ongoing battle against Parkinson’s.
|Harry Cummins. (Press file photo)|
Cummins’ International Boxing Club (formerly Fun Spot Roller Skating Rink, Oregon) will hold the “Knock-out Parkinson’s Potluck Dinner” on Feb. 27 from 6-9 pm, It will be open to the general public, with a $20 donation and a potluck dish to share serving as a cover charge.
He is starting a brand-new program at his own International Boxing Club in Oregon later this spring with help and inspiration from a graduate student in the University of Toledo’s occupational therapy department named Rachel Martinez, a 2007 graduate of Clay High School.
“About five years ago, I was out in California where I came across this young man who was a really good, talented boxer, and I was sitting behind this young man, which is when I noticed the way his head and neck kept moving, and as it turns out, it’s Parkinson’s Disease that was causing it,” shares Cummins.
Cummins came to the realization that this disease can touch anyone at any time it doesn’t discriminate according to age. At the time the boxer was only 19.
“So, it’s really pretty interesting how this all came about, because a few years ago, too, Dr. (Beth Ann) Hatkevich of the UT occupational therapy department, asked me to come out and speak to some of her students, and when I was done speaking, a woman came on and started speaking about Parkinson’s Disease,” remembers Cummins. “So, I got to have a conversation with this woman, and she ended up asking me if I’d be willing to allow some Parkinson’s patients to come over to the gym, so they could work our heavy bags a little bit. It seemed they were getting a little bored just working out in the weight room, and she thought it might be a little more entertaining for them, not to mention more beneficial, to come to the gym and hit our bags a little bit.
“So, the idea for this was sort of planted in the back of my mind back then already,” he says, “and then when Rachel, whose brother Steve used to box for us before he went into the United States Coast Guard, came to me with the idea of starting a Parkinson’s program right here at the IBC as part of her internship with UT, I was all for it. I said, ‘Sign me up. Let’s do it.’ It’s like this was all meant to be. It’s like all of the elements for the program to be a success are all around us. I think it’s going to come together.”
Martinez, 25, adds, “There’s a physical therapist at University of Toledo Medical Center named Dr. Michelle Masterson, and she’s very knowledgeable about Parkinson’s, a real expert in the area, and she kind of brought the idea of doing this project up to me,”
Rachel Martinez, like her brother Steve, has also been known to take advantage of programs already offered to the public by the IBC, most notably adult boxercise.
“It was Dr. Masterson who introduced me to a gym in Indianapolis called ‘Rock Steady Boxing’ which already has a similar Parkinson’s program. It was her who showed me a video, which I thought was really cool. And, I also do have a family member who had Parkinson’s Disease and she was never very active. And that’s what I’ve learned, that exercise can be very beneficial to people suffering from Parkinson’s.
“That’s why I’d really like to get such a program going right here at the gym,” she adds. “I think it could really help a lot of people, and as of right now, there’s not a program like it in the east Toledo and Oregon area. We actually already have three people who are already interested, who say they’d be willing to come to the IBC to try our program out. There are just a lot of things in boxing that can specifically help out with Parkinson’s Disease symptoms. It can help a person’s balance. It can help with the rigid stiffness in their muscles. It works with their footwork, which could be beneficial to those with Parkinson’s who shuffle. Plus, it’s a lot of fun.
“The gym in Indianapolis, ‘Rock Steady,’ she plugs, “they’ve got affiliates all over the country now, and even one in Australia. And we’d like to be a part of that movement, too, because the Parkinson’s population here in Oregon and East Toledo is very strong. So, this coming week, we’re going to be holding an event, right here at the gym, to try to educate our communities on what we’re trying to do with this program. ‘Rock Steady’ is offering three or four different ‘training camps’ this spring and Harry and I would like to go down there and take part so we can get the proper knowledge on how to start and run our own program right here later this spring so we can start helping people with Parkinson’s Disease. That’s what this fundraising event this week is all about.”
Rock Steady administrative manager Jessica Fithen said, “Currently, we have about 160 active Parkinson’s members here. They range in age from their late 30s, to early 90s. We have over 20 affiliates in 11 states, including three international affiliates, so our Training Camp program is a big part of how we want to reach more people with Parkinson’s,”
At the potluck this Thursday, Martinez, who holds Bachelor of Science degree with an impetus on exercise study from Ohio State University, will be a speaker. There will also be a disc jockey and silent auction. A lineup of gifts includes a movie-themed basket, a spa-themed basket, and a basket containing a voucher from the UT for four football tickets for next fall’s season.
One hundred percent of the proceeds will go towards covering Coach Cummins’ and Martinez’s travel expenses to Indianapolis, where the pair will look to glean knowledge and training from “Rock Steady” to launch their own Parkinson’s program. Leftover funds to go towards the purchase of equipment for participants who may need to stay seated in a chair when they throw those lefts and rights.
Further, Martinez would like it if the IBC could serve as a home for Parkinson’s Disease support groups, complete with a convenient meeting area in the gym’s renowned learning center, with educational literature on the disease and the benefits of exercise made readily available, every time a participant comes in for a bi-weekly, or thrice-weekly workout session.
“This fits right into our program nicely because we already do have that program called ‘Gloves with Love,’ through which we do a lot of community service work, such as helping out with the Special Olympics, serving meals to the homeless at St. Paul’s Community Center, and just doing a lot of different things to give back to our community. This is what we want the IBC to be all about…for our gym and our members to be champions outside of the ring, as we give back to our various communities, and always strive to lend a hand to those in need,” Cummins said.