I admit it. I had no idea. I had no idea people with Parkinson’s were using boxing to help them fight the disease.

It’s counterintuitive after all. Boxing and Parkinson’s a good thing? Yep.

As I soon learned, the boxing part of it involves everything but the contact.

“I think that type of exercise where you’re getting aerobic activity, you’re working on balance,” UW Medicine Neurosurgeon Andrew Ko said. “That’s one thing we do know that helps with keeping the Parkinson’s from progressing as quickly.”

Parkinson’s disease is a neurodegenerative disorder. Symptoms include impaired balance, stiffness, and tremors.
It’s the second most common neurodegenerative disease after Alzheimer’s, and about 1 percent of the population older than 60 years old is living with it.

There’s no cure.

“We can hope for a cure, but in the meantime what can we do?” said Suzanne Taitingfong, 60, who was diagnosed with the disease in 2010.

The Marysville mother of three never imagined she’d ever step into the ring. But when she heard about the positive effects of boxing on people living with Parkinson’s, she knew what to do and who to call: Brett Summers.

Summers is a former professional boxer who trains boxers in his gym in Arlington.

“I said, ‘Well I’m willing to give it a try,’” Taitingfong said.

For Summers, it was also personal. His uncle, Roland Campbell, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease last year.

Campbell is 78 years old and he had trouble walking backwards.

“I didn’t have a reverse,” said Campbell.

But after getting in the ring and going through his nephew’s workouts, Campbell can go backwards now.

That’s one of the reasons Taitingfong declares “Boxing and Parkinson’s is a match made in heaven.”

We met Taitingfong at UW Medical Center, where she was getting a checkup after receiving deep brain stimulation surgery in 2016.

The surgery is performed to control spasms and tremors, and other Parkinson’s symptoms. Electrodes are implanted in the brain, and neurotransmitters are implanted in the chest, which sends electrical pulses to the brain to help manage symptoms.

“When somebody has Parkinson’s, the activity in the brain and the networks get out of whack, and this stimulation settles it down,” Ko said.

Taitingfong discovered she was more mobile as a result of the surgery, and she realized there was something else she could do to slow the progression of the disease.

“It gave me hope, encouragement,” Taitingfong said. “It gave me confidence to get out there and try boxing, which was definitely not in my wheelhouse.”

It is now.

I asked her about her left hook.

“My right hook,” she said with a smile. “It’s strong.”

Find out more about American Parkinson’s Disease Association, and the wellness programs they provide. Find out more about the boxing gym in Arlington by contacting Brett Summers.