Thursday, January 16, 2020

In the ring: fighting Parkinson's with boxing

I became a personal pacifist in 5th grade a split second after my right fist caved in the face of Mark Duncan on the front steps at Julia Ward Howe Elementary School.

So at the age of 13 with blood on my knuckles, I’d renounced violence in front of a building named for the composer of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” a song that exalts the Lordly unleashing of His terrible swift sword.

Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!

Mark had the day before spit in my face for reasons I still do not know.

We were in 5th grade so it wasn’t like he’d busted me for hitting on his wife.

That didn’t happen ’til, oh, 6th grade with Mr. Apple, suspiciously alert husband of  Mrs. Apple, my 6th grade teacher.

I just recall a righteous fury as I wiped his hot spit from my befuddled face. In that instant and years before I’d ever watched a single episode of “Mannix,” I fully understood the concept of justifiable homicide. 

It’s a pity I became a pacifist because, clearly, I could have been a world champion pugilist and I hear there’s good scratch in that.

His head snapped back — hell, it nearly snapped off. I thought I’d killed him. I felt oddly apologetic. We never spoke again. If he saw me coming, he’d duck behind locker. I fear my punch severely deformed his psychological composition. On the other hand he probably learned spitting in someone’s face is an unwise tactic when it comes to interpersonal problem solving.

I mention all this now because after 44 years, I’m training for a fight against a foe more consequential than that childhood slobber slinger

I’m fighting Parkinson’s Disease. And I’m kicking its ass!

Uh, not really. See, I gotta be honest. I knew writing that obligatory rah-rah sentence would feel phony.

You don’t beat Parkinson’s. You either come to some sort of accommodation or you surrender to it. To me, it’s like being in one of those old movies where the lawman and the escapee are shackled and on the run for reasons that take about 90 minutes to resolve. 

Doctors describe my status as “slow progressing/high functioning.”

(In fact, I saw my PCP yesterday after I’d started this and he declared I’m in otherwise excellent health. If only …)

I have a noticeable limp and watching me put on a jacket is like watching Houdini trying to escape from one. My left arm is basically useless. It just hangs there like salami in a deli window. I type one-handed with the same hand I once used to devastate a 5th grader spitter. 

They say exercise is a key to slowing symptoms. So, I work out at Planet Fitness about four times a week, but I find terribly boring. Perhaps I should set a goal of looking decent in a Speedo by spring, but that kind of vanity exercise would lead to too many drastic lifestyle changes and I’d miss my Tin Lizzy time spent keeping my body all soft and cuddly.

But experts say one of the best ways to fight symptom progression is to put on boxing gloves and get in the ring. One headline: “Punching Out Parkinson’s Symptoms: How Boxing Helps.”  The story says boxing helps Parkinson’s patients maintain higher levels of function and quality of life than those who engaged in other forms of exercise.

So for three months now I’ve been going once-a-week to Ground Zero martial arts academy on Latrobe’s Main Street. I like owner instructor Jeremy Kosicek in that he’ll spend 30 minutes teaching me how to fight and then spend the next 30 minutes philosophizing with me about the folly of living in a world where so many people are so eager to fight.

I’m very fond of him and thus feel sheepish about my eagerness to corrupt his admirably healthy lifestyle in favor of sitting, boozing and BSing with me in dark taverns, which remains my favorite pastime.

My sessions involve shadow boxing, footwork, balance, rhythm and hitting the heavy bags. It’s very invigorating.

He tells me I’m a natural and that he’ll soon have me ready to pound the crap out any surly assailant.

But it is an ego boost to hear I’m becoming skillful at the most manly of arts.

And the opponent I’d most like to clobber is the one that resides inside my own head. It is patient. Time is on its side. It will win.

It’s up to me to make the most of my time until the final rounds.

You should, of course, be doing the same.

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