ROCHESTER, Minn. (KTTC) - It's an unusual "match" in the struggle to live with Parkinson's disease. Research has shown that boxing can help improve symptom, and give people a better quality of life.
In southern Minnesota, at the center of a national program that's transforming lives of those with Parkinson's is a heavyweight champion. And he's helping others take down the disease one punch at a time.
Raphael Butler, also known as "The Silencer," knows a thing or two about boxing. He's a heavyweight champion-- a 2004 National Golden Gloves Super Heavyweight winner with more than 50 professional boxing matches under his belt.
Now, he's taking those boxing skills and using them to make a difference in the lives of those struggling with Parkinson's. Raphael Butler said, "Boxing works everything that Parkinson's attacks. Motor skills. Movement. Balance."
Raphael works with his clients, like SueAnn, who was diagnosed with Parkinson's nearly five years ago. She's using boxing to enhance her hand-eye coordination and strength.
"Physically it's made me stronger," SueAnn said. "I like it. I can punch it out."
Rock Steady at 125 Live in Rochester is part of a national program helping thousands with Parkinson's and other neurological conditions. Participants don't box each other. They aren't trained to be prizefighters. Their goal is to get some control back of their bodies.
Fred Woolman is a power class trainer. He said, "Exercise is medicine…especially if you have Parkinson's symptoms."
Raphael knows his work is more than just the physical. He says it's also about the psychological. He says, "This disease attacks the confidence. This program is to build themselves back up to show people they don't need to depend on others at all times."
Boxing is not a cure. It's a tool-- a glove, a punching bag and hard work. And it's turning people with Parkinson's into championship fighters.