By Sean Crose
Welcome to Gleason’s Gym.
This is a gritty, no frills place, a famed Brooklyn establishment where success is earned, not given. For this is a boxing gym, not some trendy spa. It’s an institution where, simply put, one does battle.
Yet on a late afternoon in the waning days of winter, another kind of battle is being waged at Gleason’s, a battle against a formidable foe indeed – Parkinson’s Disease. For PD, as it’s called, afflicts countless people in New York State alone. What’s more, it’s a degenerative neurological illness for which there is no cure.
But the Rock Steady program is using boxing, yes boxing, to improve the lives of those affected by the nefarious disease. Although it’s a non-contact endeavor, Rock Steady employs the same training methods employed by fighters – amateurs and pros alike – to achieve its goals.
“After one session I felt a difference,” claims Laura Turzo, a woman who fights PD and is an active member of Rock Steady.
Ms. Turzo helps demonstrate how the program works for the media at this press event by stepping into a ring and acting, well, like a boxer. She moves, she hits the mits, she even (voluntarily) hits the canvas.
All the while, she’s guided by Alex Montaldo, a trainer and actor who studied at the famed Strasberg Institute who, by the way, happens to be a founder of the Rock Steady program. Mr. Montaldo also has a degree in clinical psychology, which helps him to empathize with PD patients who find themselves struggling with depression.
“There’s an emotional side” to having PD, he says. “Your reality is crumbling down around you.”
The main presenter at today’s press event is Dr. Roberta Marongiu, an instructor in neurological surgery at Cornell University. Another Rock Steady founder, Dr. Marongiu is here to explain at length both the nature of the disease and the nature of the Rock Steady program, her expertise adding heft and legitimacy to the proceedings.
“I said to Alex, ‘we have to do this,’” Dr. Marongiu tells me, recalling her first experience of seeing the effects boxing-related training has had on PD sufferers. “We saw the real results. I was amazed. I was heart broken.”
Another important part of this press gathering is the presence of Mike Stoute, an amateur boxer who suggested Gleasons to Dr. Marongiu and Mr. Montaldo. Mr. Stoute has a Bachelor’s Degree from Stony Brook University and has won both the New York Golden Gloves and the National PAL boxing championships.
Stepping in the ring with Mr. Montaldo, Mr. Stoute literally showcases the in’s and out’s of boxing training that’s been geared towards those who suffer from PD. “I also work with people who have mental disabilities,” he states, matter of factly. So that means, aside from furthering his boxing career, Mr. Stoute works with the mentally disabled AND volunteers for the Rock Steady Program?
“You feel good when you help somebody else,” he says with a smile.
Indeed there’s a lot of smiles here at the gym – the may sound corny, but it’s true. For Parkinson’s is a serious disease, one that destroys lives. And a program designed to rebuild those lives is something worth smiling about. Yet Rock Steady is also a serious endeavor, as well.
Both Dr. Marongiu and Mr. Montaldo assure me that Rock Steady is NOT an alternative treatment. Indeed, potential “fighters” must be able prove they have PD and be referenced by a physician. What’s more, Dr. Marongiu and Mr. Montaldo would like to keep in touch with each fighter’s neurologist.
As Mr. Montaldo states: “We want everyone to follow their doctor’s instructions.”
Dr. Marongiu and Mr. Montaldo would also like assistance from anyone who would be willing to donate. Organizations like Rock Steady live and die by the kindness of others (or the lack thereof). Without generosity, there simply is no program.
On top of that, Dr. Marongiu has one further request. She asks that people help Rock Steady spread the word. Let’s help them spread it.
The Rock Steady Program will be available at Gleason’s Gym.
Information regarding the Rock Steady Program can be found at this website:
Gleason’s Gym can be reached at this website:
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