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Mon, March 25

Punching through Parkinson’s: Boxing gym trains individuals with disease

Sheldon Nitzay, left, spars with boxing trainer Isaiah Flores. In addition to boxing three days per week, Nitzay says he also tap dances to curb symptoms of Parkinson’s.
Photo by Ben Leibowitz/Cronkite News

Sheldon Nitzay, left, spars with boxing trainer Isaiah Flores. In addition to boxing three days per week, Nitzay says he also tap dances to curb symptoms of Parkinson’s.

SCOTTSDALE – As 71-year-old Robert “Bob” Lane put his hand wraps on, boxing trainer Marty Barrett jabbed him with a verbal, “Let’s go, fat boy!”

Lane looked over his shoulder to see Barrett smirking and said, “I guess that’s me. I say all these nice things about you.”

The two shared a laugh. Barrett, who towers over Lane’s 5-foot frame, playfully rubbed Lane’s shoulders as he pulled on his white-and-gray boxing gloves to start his day of training.

Lane was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2013 and has been training with Barrett at 12th Round Fit Boxing gym since it opened in Scottsdale in 2016.

Barrett, the gym’s owner, trained with legends of the sport like Mike Tyson and Floyd Mayweather Jr. years ago. Now, two days away from the two-year anniversary of boxing great Muhammad Ali’s death in Scottsdale, Barrett’s training people who are in the fight of their lives against an incurable disease, which Ali also had.

Barrett’s gym actively trains around 60 Parkinson’s patients. Some come in to exercise once per week, others come in more frequently, sometimes up to five times per week.

The secret to Barrett’s success in his mind is treating everyone like a fighter.

Nobody gets special treatment in the gym.

“The thing I find here is they push me,” Lane said. “So, it’s tough, but I feel 100 percent better.”

Lane said that he had previously gone to “cardio rehab,” which was more about monitoring him than giving him regimented exercises.

The opposite is true in Barrett’s gym, where Lane tests his cognitive skills by punching a numbered boxing dummy in various number sequences and puts that learning into practice by sparring in the ring.

“We’re boxing, but we’re not getting any blows,” Lane said of sparring. “We can throw a blow if we get in there.”

Under Barrett’s training, Lane has noticed positive results such as less shaking and more balance.

“That’s a key with Parkinson’s, and just getting old in general, is balance,” Lane said.

Denis Egan, who also trains at Barrett’s gym, said that inactivity is the worst thing for a person with Parkinson’s.

“You’ve got to get up, be active,” Egan said. “Not watch ‘Judge Judy’ … which I do.”

Harvey Karchmer, like Lane, enjoys sparring the most.

“A round or two of sparring will take it all out of you,” he said. “I have more fun doing that than anything else.”

Modern science has yet to find a cure for Parkinson’s disease. Medications and exercises can help curb symptoms but helping to improve quality of life each day is what motivates Barrett.

“We don’t perform any miracles. But we can mask some of the symptoms for a while,” he said.

Wearing a gray shirt with black athletic shorts, Lane stares down the opponent he’s sparring with in the ring – a young boxer who’s approximately 50 years his junior.

Barrett barks instructions from inside the ring: “Shoot that right hand! Shoot it!”

Lane follows a left jab by firing his right fist into the upper body of his backpedaling opponent.

Barrett shouts out words of encouragement, “Good! That’s it! Just like that!”

On the far back wall of 12th Round Fit is a canvas with a picture of Ali, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 1984, and one of his many quotes.

The quote says, “Don’t count the days. Make the days count.”


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