The Insider's Guide to Healthy Hawaii: Hilo Knocks Out Parkinson’s Disease

This intense workout regime builds strength and confidence.

Medically reviewed in November 2021

Parkinson's patients are putting up their dukes and fighting the disease with the ole one-two! They meet twice a week at Waiakea Recreation Center for Rock Steady Boxing, a certified exercise program designed to help curb their disabling symptoms, boost self-esteem, and restore hope.

Ready? Fight!
Rock Steady Boxing pushes everyone to their limit and never lets them throw in the towel. The intense regimen may curtail the loss of dopamine in the brain caused by Parkinson’s. “I saw it as an intense training class that would tax my physical capabilities and challenge my mental condition,” says Herb Kiyabu.

Parkinson’s patient Marlene Goodwin first took the class in Nevada and wanted to share her newfound sense of community and hope. Goodwin, her husband Dave, and a few volunteers donated their time and money to bring the program to Hilo.

“I see smiles on people’s faces. I see a man who feels strong again when he puts on his gloves. I see a woman who feels self-conscious at the grocery store, but not here because she knows we’re all in this together,” says Goodwin.

Feeling like a champ
Many of the participants have been attending Rock Steady Boxing since it started in October 2018 and have already seen huge improvements.

“We were told there’s no cure and symptoms will get progressively worse,” says Kiyabu’s wife, June. “Since Rock Steady, he’s definitely improved his posture and gait. He’s getting stronger, he’s more agile, his mental state has improved, and he has more energy.”

Rock Steady Boxing reminds Parkinson’s patients that they’ve got someone in their corner. “I’m grateful to our dedicated coaches for their unselfish efforts,” says Kiyabu. “I give credit to my wife, June, and we’re forever indebted to Marlene and David for bringing Rock Steady to Hilo.”

As hard as the fight is, participants keep coming back for more. They say the camaraderie and sense of hope makes it worthwhile. “My island just grew into a continent,” says participant Leimomi Shearer. “I’m connected. I have a support system. I have a family. I have Parkinson’s, but it does NOT have me.”

Candace Baesse adds, “We can just relax and be ourselves. Outside, we try to control our tremors and do things to appear normal. Appearing normal is hard and exhausting. It's nice to have a safe space where we don't have to do that.”

In Hawaii, 3,000 people suffer from Parkinson’s disease and 300 new patients are diagnosed every year. In the U.S., there are 1.5 million people with Parkinson’s with 60,000 new cases every year. There’s currently no cure.

This content originally appeared on Island Scene.

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