Punching Parkinson's disease: How boxing is allowing patients to see "so many improvements"

WAUKESHA -- The late and legendary Muhammad Ali was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in 1984. Though data remains inconclusive, doctors attributed the disease to boxing-related brain injuries.

So why are men and women, all of whom have been diagnosed with Parkinson's, taking boxing classes with trainer Kathy Delker at the Waukesha Athletic Club?

"Basically, I teach them the fundamentals of boxing -- so your one-two punches, one-three-four punches. There's memorization and they have to stand correctly and move around the room and shuffle around the room. I've seen so many improvements," Delker said.

With her background in kickboxing and as a trainer, Delker knew how to train for balance and stability.

Kathy Delker

"A couple of things Kathy does is she has them do stutter steps, side to side, or shuffle steps where they're helping with their side to side balance. She has them talking throughout, which, Parkinson's can get to be a little bit of a quiet voice, so she has them being very vocal and active," Jeremy Otte with the Wisconsin Parkinson's Association said.

"It came on so slow. You start losing strength, and I thought it was just old age setting in. It's not something that if you work out a little bit you see a lot of improvement. It takes a little time for that, but I do see improvement with it," Tom Lemanczyk said.

"I'm at the point in my disease that I really need to pay attention to my posture. A lot of the exercises here help to do that," Terry LaCasse said.

"We're thrilled with it. He comes home tired, but happy. He's actually been complimented at the neurology visits because he's doing so well," Carol LaCasse said.

"It's a family, because we all can relate. We're all at different stages of the disease and all react differently to the disease," Judith Laimon-Smith said.

"I actually feel that I'm making their life better. You see a person like Sam, and you see that she had such a good day, and I'm going to take that home for the rest of the night. She just made my day," Delker said.

Sam Barbian is loved and admired by her Parkinson's friends in the class. She's different from many of them in that she's about 40 years younger.

Sam Barbian

"I started showing symptoms at the age of 17," Barbian said.

Barbian discovered the boxing program two years ago on the Wisconsin Parkinson's Association's website.

"I'm like, 'hmm, this is something out of the box,' but I feel like it's made me so much stronger, so much more outgoing and really, it's given me confidence," Barbian said.

Sam Barbian

It has been a long journey for the 26-year-old, who was diagnosed with Parkinson's in college.

"I hid it from all my classmates because I didn't know how to tell people. I was embarrassed, but the last day of school, I shared with my classmates that I had Parkinson's, and I used the Michael J. Fox symbol to show them. 'Hey, if Michael J. Fox can be an actor and be on TV all the time, I can be a teacher and make a difference in the world,'" Barbian said.

Sam Barbian

Barbian serves as a community outreach assistant at Penfield Children's Center.

"I've shown people that if you have a disability, it doesn't matter. You can still do anything that you put your heart to," Barbian said.

CLICK HERE to learn more about the Wisconsin Parkinson's Association.