When a disease tries to slow them, they strap on the gloves and fight back.

“People with Parkinson’s need to keep moving. Exercise will slow the rate of progression of Parkinson’s,” said Alan Muir of Parkinson Canada.

That’s why many people come to Boxing 4 Health in Ottawa; a gym that specializes in boxing and fitness programs for people living with Parkinson’s.

“The more I exercise the better I feel,” said Ian Ewens.

“Unless you force yourself to do big movements, as time goes on, the moves get smaller and smaller,” said Jonathan Hooper.

“Before I came boxing here I couldn’t reach for my seatbelt, I had trouble getting in and out of my wife’s car, things were going downhill,” said Jack Murphy.

“I feel a lot better after every class,” said Randy Maahs, with a smile.

The gym is also a ring of support, where friends understand and need each other.

“You’re very comfortable here and everyone you carry on a conversation with people who understand where you’re coming from with your hardships,” said boxer Joey Burden.

And when hardships breed fear, boxing makes the opponent less daunting.

“It’s facing the reality of a terrifying disease head on and doing everything in your power to keep living a happy life,” said Boxing 4 Health instructor, Keith Micomonaco.

But the pandemic has made it particularly challenging for people with Parkinson’s.

“COVID has presented a lot of challenges because of the inability for folks to get together like they used to,” said Muir.

Boxing 4 Health’s temporary closure during COVID-19 has negatively impacted its clients’ health.

“I went from five days a week of exercise to nothing, I was playing hockey twice a week playing hockey three nights a week and playing pool two nights a week and all of a sudden I’ve got nothing it’s quite a shock,” said Ian Ewens.

The gym’s owner, Chrisine Seaby, says since the clients return to the gym she’s noticed their movements have slowed, their cognition dulled, and their balance is shaken.

“It’s heartbreaking to hear about a lot of our fighters not doing so well and possibly regressing in their disease,” said Seaby. “It’s painful to hear that that’s become the reality of COVID. Some have ended up back in hospital. Their cognition is a lot worse, they’re needing help in class and that wasn’t the case prior to COVID. We’ve been open just over a month now and our goal is to get them back to where they were before.”

Micomonaco agrees much of the progress clients had made in the past seems to be gone.

“Every client is a new client. That’s the easiest way to put it. Starting again, starting from a different place.”

Clients are thrilled to be back in the gym where classes are smaller and physically distanced. All necessary COVID-19 safety protocols have been put in place. New clients are always welcome. Time here, say its regulars, is life-changing.

“I’ve been boxing here for two years and my golf game is back up better than it was before, I can put a seat belt on again and I can move so much better. Anyone who has Parkinson’s should be here exercising I can tell you that.”

The gym, like so many businesses, is winded by the wallop of COVID. For Seaby, the pain of the pandemic hasn’t just been professional, though, but personal. 

In February, her parents were vacationing in Spain when her father felt numbness in his feet. After surgery there for an apparent benign tumor, he was left paralyzed. His family had him airlifted home. Back in Ottawa, the family would receive more devastating news.

“We were then told the tumor was malignant. It was an aggressive, rare form of cancer they had never seen, and it went from benign to being a terminal diagnosis quite quickly. So we lost my dad unfortunately,” said Seaby, her voice breaking.

Seaby’s father was just 66-years old. Her students offered love and endless support during her struggle. Their kindness has been inspirational.

“They’ve been sending me messages and praying for my family. We are a family, a community here and we will continue to fight on and continue to help as many people as we can,” she said.

The boxers are now getting ready for the Parkinson Canada SuperWalk; this year a virtual event. 

“Our needs don’t go away just because of COVID, so that makes the fundraising that much more important this year,” said boxer Joey Burden.

As client Randy Maahs takes a break from punching a heavy bag at the gym, he echoes the sentiments of so many.

“I’m hoping this virus will soon leave us, so we can get back to the way it was,” he said.

And before Maahs and others raise their gloves to continue class, Micomonaco shares the reason he comes to Boxing 4 Health, week after week, to help.

“It’s a spouse or partner who says they got out of bed in five minutes instead of 20. They smiled, they watched their favourite tv show, they had a purpose. That for me is what keeps me going.”

Boxing 4 Health is located at 1796 Woodward Dr. in Ottawa. You can find out more about its classes at www.boxing4health.com To learn more about the Parkinson Canada SuperWalk visit http://www.donate.parkinson.ca