For a fighting chance against disease, people will sometimes go to unlikely places â€” even, it turns out, to the boxing ring. Our Cover Story is reported by Lesley Stahl of â€œ60 Minutesâ€:
Aaron Latham sparred with his boxing coach, Roberta Marongiu. â€œGimme all you got, come on!â€ she said.
He â€” and everyone else in the class â€” has Parkinsonâ€™s.
Itâ€™s a progressive neurological disorder that affects nearly a million Americans. You donâ€™t hear about very many with the disease getting better.
â€œI think of Parkinsonâ€™s as being the incredible shrinking disease,â€ said Latham (who is also Stahlâ€™s husband). â€œIt doesnâ€™t shrink itself. Parkinsonâ€™s doesnâ€™t shrink. Parkinsonâ€™s shrinks you.â€
Latham and his fellow Parkinsonians, aged 45 to 92, are part of a new program that aims to stop the shrinking, If not reverse it.
Each exercise works on a symptom.
â€œGimme ten. Up!â€
Stretching is for their stiffness; footwork for balance; punching to steady their tremors â€¦
Shouting to counter their soft-voice syndrome; and sparring for coordination.
Stahl asked, â€œWhat does boxing do for you, then?â€
â€œBoxingâ€™s just the opposite of Parkinsonâ€™s,â€ Latham said. â€œInstead of to shrink you, everythingâ€™s designed to pump you up. First of all, you get to put on these great gloves. It gives you enormous, giant hands and a different attitude toward the world. You get your physical courage back and your mental courage seems to kinda come along.â€
The program, called Rock Steady Boxing, uses professional boxing techniques (maybe a little more gently). Developed in Indianapolis in 2006, it has spread to over 50 gyms worldwide.
When Italian-born Roberta Marongiu first saw Rock Steady at a medical conference, â€œI just thought it was genius. â€˜Why didnâ€™t I come up with this?â€™â€ she laughed. â€œI thought it was an amazing program.â€
When sheâ€™s not coaching, Marongiu is a researcher at the Weill-Cornell Medical College in New York, working on gene therapies for Parkinsonâ€™s.
â€œMy main goal has always been the quest for a cure, finding a cure,â€ she said. â€œBut lately in the last couple of years, I felt there was something missing. And when I found this program, I thought it was something that I could do to help right now, in the present.â€
So two years ago she and her husband, Alex Montaldo, an actor, went to Indiana to learn how to teach Rock Steady.
They then approached the folks at Gleasonâ€™s in Brooklyn, a kind of grungy, no-frills, old-school gym, where Muhammad Ali trained, and where Robert De Niro trained for â€œRaging Bull.â€