In the red corner, weighing in at 222 pounds, hailing from Lincoln, Nebraska — a longtime heavy hitter in the local restaurant industry, an amateur photographer whose images pack a powerful punch: 51-year-old John Coffey.
And in the blue corner — a chronic, mysterious challenger, Parkinson's disease.
Diagnosed almost two years ago, Coffey refuses to be bullied by the progressive neurological disorder. He takes medication three times a day to control his symptoms, mainly left-hand tremors and a “slap” to his walk. But that’s not the only way he is going toe-to-toe with the disease.
“Rock Steady Boxing has been a game-changer for me,” he says.
Coffey is one of about a dozen Parkinson’s patients enrolled in Rock Steady Boxing, a rigorous, noncontact boxing program and fitness regimen offered since July at Lincoln’s Air Park Recreation Center. Funded in part by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska, Rock Steady Boxing is tailored to stand up to the symptoms of Parkinson’s. Stretching combats stiffness, footwork helps with balance, punching heavy bags helps develop strength, eye-hand coordination and dexterity.
“You’re sweating like crazy,” Coffey says.
Just five weeks into his Rock Steady training, he says he is noticing positive differences in himself and fellow boxers.
“When we were punching bags to begin with, I was barely moving them. I’d lost a lot of strength in my left arm and a lot of dexterity in my left hand,” he explains. “Now, I’ve gotten to the point where I switch it up. I pretend my right arm is my weak arm, so when you jab, you’re using your left arm to crash into the bag, put some muscle into it and build it up.”
“It is a treatment,” says Ryan Mohling, director of Air Park Recreation Center and one of the center’s two certified Rock Steady Boxing coaches.
He was inspired to bring the Indianapolis-based program to Air Park – and Nebraska – after seeing a feature on CBS's "Sunday Morning." He found a need in Lancaster County, where more than 2,300 people are living with Parkinson’s disease, according to the Nebraska Department of Health & Human Services.
“Rock Steady Boxing is giving some of these boxers their independence back – including independence from their tremors,” Mohling says.
A 2011 study of patients with Parkinson’s showed both short-term and long-term improvements in balance, gait, activities of daily living and quality of life after participating in Rock Steady Boxing.
“I would call it medication,” says Coffey, who describes his symptoms as mild compared to those of other Rock Steady boxers.
His involvement in the program continued a streak of healthy lifestyle changes made post-diagnosis. To reduce stress, he traded 30 years in the restaurant industry for a new career in credit card payment solutions (though he remains a partner in The Flatwater bistro in Lincoln’s Haymarket District). He finds peace in photographing nature, walks several miles a day and avoids foods with refined sugar and white bleached flour. He has lost 60 pounds so far and hopes to lose another 20.
“When I told my doctor about Rock Steady Boxing, he had the permission slip written up before I could finish talking about it.”
John says boxing isn’t something he thought about doing prior to his diagnosis. Now he’s a champ at throwing a proper hook, cross and uppercut.
“John is one of our younger boxers,” Mohling says. “For him to come in, be assessed and start a program – that takes a lot of courage. And here he is now. He has really turned into a great spokesperson for us.”
When facing a diagnosis like Parkinson’s, Coffey says you have to have the right people in your corner. For him, that’s his family, his doctors, and the two “good servants” who coach Rock Steady.
“I’m not going to give Parkinson’s any more attention than it deserves,” Coffey says.
The same cannot be said of the speedbag.
“When I’m in the gym with Rock Steady, I don’t stop early. I punch two or three more times.”
“Faces of Fearless” is a storytelling series in Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska’s “Live Fearless” campaign celebrating people living their very best lives and inspiring others to do the same.
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Mary Marion is more than a people person. She is a serving-people person. Her entire adult life has been spent caring for others – from the eight sons she raised to the neighbors she helps feed to the fellow seniors she impacts twice a week, every week at The Salvation Army’s Dora Bingel Senior Center. Click here to read the story.
After dealing with a painful loss, an Omaha musician's career is budding again — and he gives a lion’s share of the credit for his recovery to Grief’s Journey, formerly Ted E. Bear Hollow. Click here to read the story.
It’s not that we have a food production problem in our community. We have a food distribution problem," says Beth Ostdiek Smith, founder of Saving Grace Perishable Food Rescue, which receives grant support from Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska. Click here to read the story.
Sharon Martin and Mike Hughbanks share a passion for advocacy and outreach related to dementia through Art to Remember, an interactive program at Joslyn Art Museum. Sharon is a docent; Mike has early-onset Alzheimer's disease. Click here to read the story.
Occupational therapist Diane Bemis is motivated by the “magic” of pairing horses and people with disabilities in a therapeutic riding program funded in part by a Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska grant. Click here to read the story.
Beth Kernaghan, left, has spent the past two years coaching Ana Pérez-Villagómez through College Possible, a program for low-income academic achievers. The program is funded in part by a Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska grant. Click here to read the story.
Adam Armstrong is giving back as a veteran support specialist with At Ease, a Lutheran Family Services initiative that is sponsored, in part, by a Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska grant. For him, it’s more than a job. It’s a call to service. Click here to read the story.
Lamya Ali has a garden plot through Community Crops and uses the Lincoln nonprofit’s mobile farmers market. The community garden program has been a godsend, she says, and now she’s quick to tell others about it. Community Crops is supported, in part, by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska. Click here to read the story.
Molly Troxel is a visually impaired athlete who aspires to be a Paralympian. Here, the 15-year-old plays goalball, an intense Paralympic team sport that involves using one’s body to prevent a clanging ball from crossing the goal line. Competitive play is provided through Outlook Nebraska Inc., a nonprofit recipient of grant support from Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska. Click here to read the story.
Tim Smiley answered a "driver wanted" ad that changed his life. Today, he's helping thousands in need, coordinating deliveries for Food Bank for the Heartland. Smiley's 12-hour days include the distribution of fresh produce to agencies across Nebraska and western Iowa in an initiative supported in part by a grant from Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska. Click here to read the story.
Dr. Zach Meyer is a medical director at Third City Community Clinic (TCCC). TCCC was founded more than 20 years ago to serve low-income patients who could not otherwise afford basic dental and medical care. Click here to read the story.
Shelton Public School physical education teachers Matt Walter and Amanda Thober stand on a soft shredded rubber blacktop with new playground equipment. Shelton is a recent Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska Project Fit America grantee. Click here to read the story.
"Parents are our first heroes," says Vanita Jarmon, principal at Conestoga Magnet School in Omaha, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska’s Adopt-A-School Partner for more than 15 years. Her leadership approach celebrates their positive contributions to student — and teacher — success. Click here to read the story.
Rock Steady Boxing is paying off for John Coffey in improved balance, gait, activities of daily living and quality of life. Click here to read the story.
Louis "Big Lou" Parker is a mainstay at the Heart Ministry Center, paying back the help he got when he needed it most. “I’ve always been a hard worker. I’ve always believed in going in all the way. And I’ve always had a heart to help people," he said. Click here to read the story.
Sharon Martin on manning the Boys Town National Hotline: “Every day when I leave here, I want to feel like I made a difference in a person’s life, even one person. If I’ve done that, then I’ve done what I needed to do.” Click here to read the story.
Partnership 4 Kids is providing life-changing experiences for JoAnn Robinson. This summer she's discovering that she's a natural leader in P4K University's team-building workshop sponsored by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska. Click here to read the story.
Karlyn Walker and her daughter, Adrionna, 13, are faithful attendees of Wellbriety Family Nights at the Nebraska Urban Indian Health Coalition in Omaha, where they enjoy making native crafts together. Wellbriety, Karlyn said, has helped her keep her demons at bay and see that “there is a healthy life out there.” Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska supports the program. Click here to read the story.