Punching back against Parkinson's
With his boxing gloves firmly tightened, Steve Holland attacked a heavy bag with wild abandon to strains of the Beatles' "Revolution" blaring in the background.
Not too bad for a man who only recently broke his hip.
And the only difference between Holland and other boxers is that he's battling Parkinson's disease — a degenerative disorder of the central nervous system that primarily affects the motor system
A moment later, Holland took a few jabs at a "boxing bob," a head and torso mannequin.
And while his gloves won't ever connect with someone's face, he gets the type of workout any athlete would envy at the recently opened Kimberly Berg's Rebel Fit Club.
"It's non-contact boxing," said Berg. "It's a circuit boot camp."
After years of renting out gym space around the Portland metro area to help run the largest group of gyms in the Pacific Northwest serving those suffering with Parkinson's disease, Berg recently opened her new 12,000-square-foot gym at 12084 S.W. Main St. in Tigard, next to the downtown Rite Aid.
And she's loving it.
"This is our baby; this is our dream," Berg said of the facility, which will host a grand opening celebration Saturday, Sept. 14. "Everything that happens here is for people with Parkinson's."
Among those suffering from the disease are such celebrities as Michael J. Fox and Alan Alda. Former Trail Blazer Brian Grant has the disease as well.
A clinical exercise physiologist for more than 25 years, Berg has also worked extensively in cardiac care and orthopedics rehabilitation. Since 2007, she has focused on helping those with Parkinson's disease and has done research on the disease at Oregon Health & Science University.
Her new Tigard facility includes two treatment rooms along with a dance studio for tai chi, yoga, Pilates, drumming, dancing and singing (with lots of classic rock songs thrown in).
The dance portion of Berg's gym focuses on flash mobs, live performances and dancing, all involving Parkinson's patients.
"We danced opening night at the World Parkinson Congress," she said of the 2016 conference held in Portland. "We did 'Thriller.'"
But that wasn't the first time they performed the classic Michael Jackson-choreographed dance. That was in 2012, when they filmed the same song in the Lone Fir Cemetery, a familiar location for those who watched the former "Grimm" television series.
And while Berg's facility is the largest Parkinson's specific gym around, it's actually more of a training center, she explained, pointing out that her clients are athletes.
"We're tough; we're very, very tough," said Berg, an Estacada resident. "We're kind. We're accepting. But we're tough."
But she calls her Rebel Fit Club a life-changer, effectively a sanctuary for those suffering from Parkinson's, which is a progressive disease.
"Basically it's a neurological disease," Berg explained. Tremors, balance, eyesight and cognitive issues often play a part for those suffering from the disease. "People don't die from it, they die with it."
Having first leased space at the Next Level Martial Arts & Fitness on Southwest 74th Avenue in Tigard in 2014, she quickly found there was intense interest in the activities she offers and soon rented space in other gyms, including Alive MMA in Southeast Portland; Fisticuffs Gym in Vancouver, Washington; Element Wellness in Southwest Portland; and Aim High Academy of Martial Arts in Beaverton.
Now Berg has 275 "fighters," ranging in age from 35 to 85 years old.
And Berg's clients agree that their time in the boxing ring has benefited them tremendously.
Those include Gary McGrath, a longtime Tualatin High School prep sports coach. He had never boxed before he entered Berg's gym, which he describes as "awesome."
"I was diagnosed March of '18, and the first thing the neurologist said was, 'Get into Kim's program,'" said McGrath, who was the Tualatin High girls varsity basketball coach for the 1995-99 seasons.
Originally diagnosed with mild symptoms, McGrath is also participating in a clinical trial of a new Parkinson's disease drug at OHSU.
"Kim's been great," he said. "I can tell when I've been to her classes and when I miss them."
Still, McGrath, a Tualatin resident since 1991, said he was somewhat intimidated when he walked into Berg's gym the first time, when he first eyeballed the raised boxing ring.
"You just got to change your attitude, because this is how you win the battle," said McGrath. "Because you got no choice. It's this or nothing."
So far, he said he's noticed his tremor is better.
But in the ring with Berg on a recent Thursday, McGrath had to be quick on his toes as Berg yelled out numbers corresponding to boxing moves — a jab, a cut, a hook and an uppercut that he delivers accordingly into Berg's mitts.
And although McGrath calls Berg "super-sweet," he said she makes her athletes work hard.
When the sparring was over, McGrath lay on his back and rolled under the ropes to get out of the ring like any boxer — a feat in itself.
"A lot of people with Parkinson's can't (even) get out of bed," McGrath pointed out.
Another gym member, Claudia Danker, loves Berg's boxing gym as well, saying she's noticed how the vigorous workouts have helped slow the progression of Parkinson's disease.
"The thing Kim is doing, she's amazing," said Danker, who moved from Guadalajara, Mexico, to Beaverton 12 years ago. "I like the new place."
Danker said she feels better because she's challenging her brain. In addition, Danker said the workouts keep her happy, helping her with depression and anxiety.
"People think Parkinson's is only for old people, and that's not true," said Danker, pointing out that at age 53, she's part of the 1% of the younger population who have Parkinson's disease. She diagnosed four years ago, before she even turned 50.
Meanwhile, Berg puts out a weekly blog addressing issues related to dealing with Parkinson's, something she said that's heavy on facts without the "gloom and doom."
"I always give them a solution," she observed. "I say, 'Give me one class, and you'll feel better.'"
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