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Fighting Back Against Parkinson's Disease

July 5, 2020

Jana Mentzer’s mother received the diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease at the young age of 36. Her struggles are never far from Jana’s mind as she now helps others in north Iowa diagnosed with the disease fight back. 

Jana coaches Rock Steady Boxing, a program of the Mason City Family YMCA helping those diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease stay mentally and physically active using non-contact boxing activities. Jana happened onto the program when living in St. Louis and fell in love. “I knew right away how awesome it was because people of different ages and stages of the disease, like my mom had been through, were having fun,” remembered Jana. “They were punching stuff, they were laughing, and knew they weren’t the only person with the disease.”

According to Jana, the high-intensity group exercise has been shown to slow the progression of Parkinson’s disease in various studies. This, of course, is an important benefit, but the social interaction and fellowship may be the most valuable take away. 

“When you talk to all the boxers, what they really get is the camaraderie,” she said. “They can walk in the room, and it doesn’t matter if their hand is shaking or they can’t move as well, because everybody gets it. It becomes a community fighting together, dealing with the good, the bad, and the ugly that comes with Parkinson’s.”

Thanks to a $10,000 grant from the Cerro Gordo County Community Foundation, the Mason City Family YMCA now offers a safer experience for Rock Steady participants. The grant allowed for the purchase and installation of rubber flooring to provide better traction and greater cushion for a group at high risk of injury from falls.  

“The Cerro Gordo County Community Foundation is an asset to the entire county and a partner with the YMCA throughout the years,” said Heath Hupke, Mason City Family YMCA associate executive director. “The grant alleviated stress and fear and brought relief and celebration to the classes.”

Rock Steady has grown from five to 26 participants who are inspiring others with their perseverance. “If you think you’re having a bad day and you come to Rock Steady, you see people battling this disease, punching it out, working hard, and sweating, and it’s hugely motivational. It’s fabulous,” said Jana.