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A group of North Iowans is fighting back against Parkinson’s disease.

That’s thanks to Rock Steady Boxing, a well-rounded exercise program for individuals with the progressive nervous system disorder, that’s been offered at the Mason City Family YMCA since November.

“It’s wonderful,” said Judy “Groovy” Reidel, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s about two and a half years ago.

Reidel was among six individuals, including three men and three women, who attended Rock Steady Boxing Thursday afternoon.

Rock Steady Boxing, an Indianapolis-based nonprofit gym founded in 2006, focuses on overall fitness, strength, reaction time and balance through non-contact boxing drills, abdominal and core exercises, calisthenics and circuit training. There are about 800 affiliates across the U.S.

The Mason City program is among 13 in Iowa, but it’s the only one north of U.S. Highway 30. It’s offered from 3:30 to 5 p.m. Monday and Wednesday, from 1 to 2:30 p.m. Tuesday and from 3 to 4:30 p.m. Thursday.

“We’re trying to get both sides of their brain to work as much and as efficiently as possible, so that’s where boxing is important,” said Jana Mentzer, Mason City’s certified Rock Steady Boxing coach.

When Mentzer moved to Clear Lake from St. Louis, she was surprised to find there wasn’t an affiliate in North Iowa or southern Minnesota, so she started the program in Mason City.

She was introduced to the program in St. Louis and became passionate about its benefits for individuals with Parkinson’s disease.

“I loved it because I saw a whole bunch of people who were like my mom in different stages, but they were fighting back and they were slowing down Parkinson’s, which is outstanding,” she said.

Mentzer grew up around Parkinson’s because her mother was diagnosed with the disease when she was 36, and she was 10. At that time, there were limited options for individuals with Parkinson’s to maintain their quality of life.

She said research now shows that exercise, especially circuit-based training, is critical for people diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.

“We try to work on all different parts of Parkinson’s because we want to slow down the disease as much as we absolutely can,” Mentzer said.

When Mentzer started the program in Mason City, there were five boxers, and now, there are about 20.

Each program comprises a warm up, boxing-related stations and a cool down. Plus, each participant gets a boxing name.

Mentzer said each station and exercise can be modified to accommodate an individual’s abilities. She has individuals in her program that use assistive devices, like walkers, and others who are restricted because of injury.

During Thursday’s program, three boxers completed stations with bags, while three others completed stations with gloves. Each station was completed in two minutes with a minute rest before rotating. After completing five stations, the two groups switched.

“My job as a coach and as volunteers is to push them beyond what they think they can do,” Mentzer said.

Reidel, 77, said she joined the program at the recommendation of her doctor, and she likes how it works both sides of her brain.

Sometimes when they’re in stations, volunteers will come around with math flash cards for them to complete.

“It’s all to keep this going,” she said, while pointing to her brain.

Reidel said since she began the program, her family has noticed improvement in her posture; she’s no longer slumping over as much. It’s something she’s become aware of, too.

“I love it,” she said.

Jim “Jabber” Luense, 75, who’s had Parkinson’s for about four years, started Rock Steady Boxing in Minnesota last summer before starting in Mason City in November.

He enjoys the camaraderie between the boxers and the volunteers.

“It’s fun,” Luense said. “We’ve all kind of bonded.”

He said his driving, walking and energy levels have improved since he began the program, and he would encourage others with Parkinson’s to try it.

There will be a Parkinson’s Awareness Open House on Monday. The open house will feature program demonstrations starting at 5 p.m. at the Mason City Family YMCA, 1840 S. Monroe Ave.

A tai chi class will be demonstrated from 5:10 to 5:40 p.m. by Glen Hepker, an author and trained tai chi instructor, and Mentzer and some of the local boxers will demonstrate Rock Steady Boxing from 6 to 7 p.m.

Rock Steady Boxing is among a few resources offered to North Iowans with Parkinson’s disease.

There’s a Parkinson’s support group at 3 p.m. the first Tuesday of every month at Kentucky Ridge Assisted Living, 2060 S. Kentucky Ave., in Mason City.

On Saturday, May 4, the fourth annual Shake, Rattle and Stroll Parkinson’s Awareness 5K walk/run will return to Clear Lake City Park.

The event, started by Geri Berding, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2014, has raised more than $35,000 for the Michael J. Fox Foundation, which is dedicated to finding a cure for Parkinson’s disease through funding research and developing improved therapies for those living with it today..

Registration for the walk/run is at 9:30 a.m. and the opening ceremony is at 9:45 a.m. The walk/run begins at 10 a.m. A sold-out drawing of five prizes will take place at 11:15 a.m.

Berding said the event not only raises awareness about Parkinson’s disease but offers a community for those who have it.

“We may all walk a different journey with this disease, but we can support each other,” she said about the 5K walk/run event and Rock Steady Boxing.

For more information about Rock Steady Boxing, visit www.rocksteadyboxing.org.

North Iowa Nine: What's happening in North Iowa (with photos)

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Reach Reporter Ashley Stewart at 641-421-0533. Follow her on Twitter at GGastewart.

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