Scottsdale boxing gym fights Parkinson’s progression one punch at a time

A Scottsdale boxing club is helping people with Parkinson’s disease by hitting the bags and supporting one another.
Published: Oct. 19, 2022 at 7:26 PM MST
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SCOTTSDALE, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) — Over the years, doctors have long questioned the connection between boxing and head injuries leading to degenerative brain diseases. But a Phoenix-area group who’s fighting the battle of Parkinson’s disease is hitting the bags in the name of health. “These guys are all fighters,” said Duane Bell. Fighters who are training for something bigger than a belt. “They’re here week in and week out,” said Bell.

These athletes are a little older. “Listen, I have a class with an average age of 75-78,” said Bell. “It works on my coordination, works on my cognition, works on my balance. It’s wonderful,” said Jan Scheer. The workout helps with motor functions, which are debilitated by Parkinson’s. “Its a great feeling to know that I can do that,” said Scheer. It’s a disease that affects your mobility, your mental health and even something so simple as writing a letter. “My handwriting, couldn’t read it before. Now you can’t read it at all,” said Sheryl Lowenhar. “My dad had Parkinson’s. I kind of knew what to expect.” It’s the disease that brought this group together at Scottsdale’s Pound Boxing Club. Each of them is dealing with different symptoms and different progressions. All of them are led by owner Duane Bell and are working to prolong an illness that has no cure. “There is no contact, but the benefits of the sport is the coordination, the conditioning obviously, the strength building, balance working with their foot movement, even the cognitive aspects of calling out the numbers, memorization of the punches and the movement is very beneficial to Parkinson’s,” said Bell.

Before Bell owned this gym, he fell in love with the sport by working with world-class trainer Freddie Roach. He’s a legendary fixture in the boxing community who has Parkinson’s. “I think about Freddie quite often. It’s not at the forefront of my mind ‘cause I literally have room full of Freddies in front of me,” said Bell. Doctors agree boxing can help Parkinson’s patients. “One thing everybody knows is how hard it is, training for a boxing competition,” said Mayo Clinic neurologist Dr. Rodolfo Savica. “We know that exercise, especially aerobic exercise, high heart rate and you’re sweating is one of the only things that we can suggest to delay the progression of Parkinson’s disease.”

It’s working for Lowenhar, who, at one time, had nowhere to throw punches in Scottsdale and knocked on this gym door five years ago to do these charitable classes. “Don’t tell him this but Duane is an angel,” said Lowenhar. “And he really makes you feel like you belong here,” said Scheer. Bell admits, at times, it’s hard to see the disease winning rounds on his fighters but he’s grateful to be in their corners. “After doing this for five years consistently, it is hard to see some of my clients deteriorate but its also really positive to see them fight off that deterioration with every breath.”

Scottsdale’s Pound Boxing Club, on Northsight Boulevard near Hayden Road, is holding its fifth annual fundraiser for the Michael J. Fox Foundation on Saturday, Oct. 22nd, 2022, from 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. For more information on how to register, click/tap here.