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Kona Gym Now Offering Boxing Program for Parkinson’s Patients

By Tiffany DeMasters
April 9, 2021, 3:15 PM HST
* Updated April 9, 4:19 PM
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Pacific Island Fitness and the Hawaiian Parkinson’s Association have teamed up to offer Rock Steady Boxing, a boxing program for Parkinson’s patients in Kona.

On Thursday, April 8, six students gathered at the gym for the program’s third class. Rock Steady Boxing is specifically for those who have Parkinson’s disease as it incorporates boxing techniques to help stimulate hand/eye coordination and cognitive function.

The owners of Pacific Island Fitness have been involved with the Parkinson’s community for a few years. Natalie Bisnow, owner of the gym, said her father-in-law suffered from the disease for close to 20 years. He passed away about a year and a half ago.

Natalie Bisnow and her husband Chris were caregivers for Gary Bisnow for the last 10 years of his life.

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“We learned a lot about his limitations and how the disease affected him. This (Rock Steady Boxing) is something that would’ve really helped with his condition,” Natalie Bisnow said.

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Tom St. John, founder of Big Island’s Parkinson’s support group with his wife Donna, and who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s 18 years ago, reached out to Gretchen Westgaard, a certified Rock Steady Boxing coach, about starting a class and to Natalie Bisnow about holding sessions at the gym. The boxing program was supposed to start a year ago, however, because of COVID-19, the gyms closed and classes moved to Zoom.

After her father-in-law’s death, Natalie and her husband Chris wanted to give back to the Parkinson’s community, so they teamed up with the Parkinson’s Association to offer the classes at the gym.

“Our launch class was very emotional for both my husband and I,” Natalie Bisnow said. “We felt like Gary was here with us. We felt like he was looking down on us proud of what we’re bringing to the Parkinson’s community.”

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Chris Bisnow said the class, so far, has been going good and everyone seems to be enjoying it.

“We’re really excited to do our small part to contribute,” Chris Bisnow said. “It’s one of those cool things where the community comes together and everyone does their little part, and the sum of those parts is greater than what you expected, and you end up with a really nice situation like this.”

Donna and Tom St. John were at Thursday’s class. Donna said exercise plays a major role in managing the disease.

“It helps with your balance and just your general well-being,” she explained. “I exercise every day and do the class twice a week.”

The boxing program, Westgaard said, allows for hard-hitting and high-intensity workouts that help with balance and dexterity. The class also uses voice activation as they shout every time they jab, cross, hook or uppercut.

“It helps with quality of life,” the coach added.

Westgaard said the classes offer camaraderie, not just for students, but for the caregivers because it gives them people to talk to.

“There’s somewhere for them to go to exercise and be with each other,” Westgaard said. “This is only our third class, but I can see it’s going to be really helpful.”

Westgaard has been teaching the class over Zoom. She said there are some exercises that just can’t be done because they don’t want the students to fall and hurt themselves.

“Here (at the gym), you can help them with their balance more because balance is the number one thing that can be detrimental,” Westgaard said. “If they fall and break something, they stop doing exercise and they go downhill from there. So, we keep them on their feet, and it’s just a great program.”

Click here for information on how to attend a Rock Steady Boxing class. Volunteers are also wanted as cornermen. Contact Kym Gentry-Peck for details on how to help. Email her at [email protected] or call at 808-494-5193.

Tiffany DeMasters
Tiffany DeMasters is a reporter for Big Island Now. Tiffany worked as the cops and courts reporter for West Hawaii Today from 2017 to 2019. She also contributed stories to Ke Ola Magazine and Honolulu Civil Beat.
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