POCATELLO, Idaho (KIFI/KIDK) - Four times a week, Poky4Parkys meets at the Senior Activity Center looking to throw haymakers at Parkinson's disease.
"We pretend that our bags are Parkinson’s and so we’re punching the Parkinson’s disease and fighting back," Kristine Ritchie, a regular at the class, said.
Since the program started in December, Ritchie said she's attended nearly every class. Her father had the disease and when she was diagnosed, she decided not to "sit on the sofa and give up."
"So I wanted to go down fighting and so I'm fighting," she said.
A University of Indianapolis study illustrated that the sport can have short and long-term impacts on "balance, gait, activities of daily living, and quality of life."
While there is no cure for the disease, Carolyn Weber, a physical therapist who works with the class, said it can make a significant difference.
"We should never stop fighting for a cure for Parkinson’s, but this is something in the here and now that can help improve symptoms dramatically, and kind of walk them back."
In the period since the class began, several participants have noticed a change. Paul Neibaur is a perfect example. Diagnosed three years ago, he said boxing has improved his motor function.
"And it seems like I get carried away and hit as hard as I can, which is fun."
Neibaur suffers from resting tremors and said "a different part of the brain" seems to take over when he's active, significantly reducing the shaking.
Coached by Dean Hazen, the program aims to "mix people's brain up."
"What I actually do is change the number combinations of the punches they do, so they don't get used to a pattern," Hazen said. "And that's the whole course - that's all it's about - is finding ways to get people to use their brain differently and have to work hard."
Hazen also suffers from Parkinson's. Since he's been boxing, he hasn't noticed any reversal of his symptoms but said he also said they hadn't been progressing.
Though boxing is not a cure, Weber said it does allow people to the things that make life worth living.
"It keeps people able to feed themselves, clothe themselves, you know, hug the grandkids, pet the dog," she said. "So it’s something that can really help right now."
Hazen is working to get have the class affiliated with Rock Steady Boxing.
Currently, there are about 13 participants. Hazen said he hopes others give the class a shot.
Classes are held on Monday and Thursday at 9:30 a.m. and Tuesday and Friday at 2:30 p.m.