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Noncontact boxing gives a fighting chance against the effects of degenerative disease

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MONTVILLE TWP. — Mara Hornstrom, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2012, refused to allow the disease to slow her down.

“I’m fighting back,” the 68-year-old Medina resident said Friday.

Hornstrom was outfitted in a pair of black boxing gloves and standing square to a punching bag.

“The reason I want to tell my story is if it touches one person to get up and do something, I’ll be happy,” she said.

She’s been a regular at Title Boxing Club, 5155 Buehlers Drive, since April 2017 after a friend sent her a link about boxing’s benefits.

Parkinson’s is a progressive nervous system disorder that affects movement. Symptoms usually start with a barely noticeable tremor in one hand. Tremors are common, but the disorder also commonly causes stiffness or slowing of movement.

It could also cause slurred speech. The symptoms worsen as the condition progresses.

Cleveland Clinic Medina Hospital neurologist Dr. Kristin Appleby, Hornstrom’s doctor, said the disease can’t be cured, but some medications might significantly improve a patient’s symptoms.

Exercise can be counted the same.

It might slow down the disease, but it won’t reverse the process. It’s why she encourages her patients to get moving.

“It doesn’t matter what you do as long as you enjoy it,” she said.

Appleby said incorporating a boxing routine into Hornstrom’s regimen helps with strength, balance and cardiovascular system.

Appleby said sometimes it helps people take out their aggression against Parkinson’s by hitting the bag.

She said she suggests that her patients take a class, just to get them active.

“It’s hard to get them to exercise,” she said.

Hornstrom said working out comes naturally to her. Her husband, Roger, is a personal trainer.

They have a gym at their house. The two retirees have planned a weeklong bike trip in Xenia for later in the summer.

“(Roger) is a motivator for me,” she said.

Hornstrom also has been going to a spinning class where she rides a stationary bike.

“You’ve got to get up and move,” she said. “I try to get 10,000 steps every day on my Fitbit.”

Hornstrom said after she was diagnosed with the disease, she said she refused to give up.

“I could be sad and cry or move on with my life,” she said.

Several famous people have Parkinson’s disease, including late boxer Muhammad Ali, actor Michael J. Fox and singers Linda Ronstadt and Neil Diamond.

Hornstrom said her left hand shakes more than her right.

“The tremors are the biggest thing,” she said. “When I get nervous, it acts up a little bit.

“My left side is weaker when I punch the bag. It makes me use both sides of my body.”

Hornstrom said she sews and knits to help with her fine motor skills.

She said she’s developed her own support system. They hold support group meetings at the Medina County Office for Older Adults.

Appleby said there is another exercise group, Delay the Disease, which holds classes in Wooster, Ashland and Mansfield.

Administered at affiliate gyms across the country, the Rock Steady Boxing program aims to give people with Parkinson’s disease hope by improving their quality of life through a noncontact boxing-based fitness curriculum.

Rock Steady Boxing holds classes in Lakewood, Warrensville Heights, Beachwood and Boardman.

Title Boxing Club co-owner Byron Crane said he’d be open to starting a Parkinson’s club at Title Boxing if the Cleveland Clinic would administer it.

“One of our customers said it’s saving my marriage one punch at a time,” Crane said.

Appleby said there’s no way of knowing with 100 percent certainty a patient has Parkinson’s until they die and their brain can be cut open.

She said about a million people in the U.S. suffer from the disease.

Hornstrom received a Parkinson’s necklace for Christmas from her son and daughter-in-law, and she hasn’t taken it off yet.

It proclaims, “Fighting Back,” on the medallion, along with a boxing glove and a gray ribbon.

“I wear it every day,” she said. “I’m fighting back. It serves as a reminder and a motivator.”

Hornstrom has issued a challenge to other Parkinson’s patients.

“What are you doing to fight back?” she said.

Contact reporter Bob Finnan at (330) 721-4049 or rfinnan@medina-gazette.com.

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