Skip to content

Boxing program for people with Parkinson’s returns to Oxford

Community & News, News, Patient Stories, Neurology, Service Line
April 23, 2024
Boxing program for people with Parkinson’s returns to Oxford

It’s an early spring morning in Oxford, Ohio. 

The birds are chirping, the sun is still on its way up, and Sara Penhale is fastening the straps on her bright pink boxing gloves… all is as it should be. 

And although this is something she does often – three times a week, to be exact – the retired Earlham College biology professor is not gearing up for some blockbuster pay-per-view bout. Instead, Sara is working to slow the progression of the Parkinson’s Disease she was diagnosed with 17 years ago. 

The program Sara trains with is called Rock Steady Boxing, a non-profit providing no-contact boxing classes for individuals with Parkinson’s. The organization operates locations all across the country, encouraging physical activity that can help improve balance and coordination while decreasing muscle stiffness and pain.

These boxing classes challenge common misconceptions about what people with Parkinson’s can do physically – especially individuals who have lived with it for a long time. 

“People that get involved with Rock Steady are motivated towards their own wellness,” says Nancy Malay, a program head coach at Rock Steady with a background in physical therapy. “They are still vital, athletic folks that want to maximize their bodies’ potentials.” 

Rock Steady Boxing originally came to Oxford with Sara’s help over two years ago, but it was eventually set to shut down when its main sponsor was unable to continue providing funding in late 2023. 

However, Sara and her husband Allan Winkler were not going to give up so easily – she is a fighter, after all. 

Alongside Miami University and through funding from the McCullough-Hyde Memorial Foundation, TriHealth is proud to have partnered with Rock Steady Boxing to revive the Parkinson’s boxing program – classes already having resumed in March 2024 after only a little more than four months hiatus! 

With sessions started up, the group is already back on the heavy and speed bags, working on balance and agility drills, and even swinging the battle ropes again. 

Beyond the physical benefits, the group aspect is just as important to the boxers at Rock Steady as well. 

“People need encouragement, and it’s nice to share your experience with people who are having similar ones,” Sara said about building a support network at the classes. “You can learn from them and be encouraged and motivated to work harder.” 

The boxing and the support group dynamic is so important, in fact, that Sara began carpooling with a few other members to the nearest Rock Steady classes in Richmond, Indiana during the hiatus. 

The group has seen growth since its return to Oxford, expanding from eight members in late 2023 when it lost funding to the 16 registered today.

Head coach Malay said the expansion of the recently revived class has gone so well that it would even be “definitely beneficial to have another coach” in the near future.

And although Sara’s one-two punch of determination and passion to bring Rock Steady Boxing back to Oxford is inspiring, it also hasn’t been a surprise to anyone who knows her – she is a fighter, after all.  

Rock Steady Boxing classes in Oxford, Ohio operate from 8:30 am – 9:30 am every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at Miami University’s Chestnut Field House.

Photo by Sean Scott with permission to use by the Oxford Observer

Related Articles