Mike Justak, of Plymouth, chased a local Parkinson's boxing class like a fighter chases a dream.
“I found one,” said Justak, “but the guy kept moving his gym.”
Eventually, Justak would run down fellow Parkinson's fighter Kelly Cargill, who knew of Win Hall and his Eden Prairie-based WinAtLife Boxing and Training Club.
The decision to hold such a class in Eden Prairie was unanimous.
“I spent four months researching Parkinson's disease,” said Win Hall. “I studied the things that inhibit people fighting the disease and the things that help.”
He visited the Struthers Parkinson's Center and talked with their nurses.
He also talked with the fighters, the people battling the disease.
Hall's initial take was simple: “It looks like a muscular disease, but it's brain related,” he said. “It's a disconnect.”
He then looked into other Parkinson's boxing classes, including Rock Steady Boxing of Indianapolis, the first gym in the country dedicated to the fight against Parkinson's.
Hall's program, which debuted Jan. 8, is built on four main pillars: brain, body, breathing and balance.
“My boxing gym teaches technique and form,” he said. “It's real boxing skills, whether you want a fight or not.
“Our Parkinson's classes are more intentional, more mindful," he added. “If you're supposed to cover your face, we'll tell you to cover your face. If you forget to breathe, we'll remind you to breathe.”
Note: The hissing sound you hear when watching a boxing match is the boxer breathing — striking power increases by breathing out on the hit.
“Balance is everything in boxing,” said Hall. “It's why boxers never cross their feet.”
WinAtLife Knockout Parkinson's classes meet Tuesdays and Thursdays from 3:30 to 4:15 p.m. at Vault Fitness in Eden Prairie.
“Class starts with a warm-up,” said Hall. “We shadow box and jump rope before we do our work out. We work on boxing technique, movement and balance. We stretch and do abs work.
“Class ends with what I call KOP (Knock Out Parkinson's),” he said. “We get on the bag and give it our all.”
There is no such thing as a typical participant.
“Parkinson's effects people differently,” said Hall. “We have clients in their 50s, 60s and 70s.”
Me, myself and I
Justak, who runs the Mike Justak Foundation for Parkinson's Disease, was diagnosed at age 46.
“That was 15 years ago,” he said. “When I retired in 2012, Mike Justak became my most important job.
“Do you know the Ford slogan?” he asks. “Ford says quality is Job 1. For me, my health is Job 1.”
Justak equates class to a boxer with a good combination.
“The class combines movement, stretching, balance, mental and cardio,” he said. “Changing between activities switches things up in my brain.
“The sparring, or mitts, is exhilarating,” he added. “Fighting Parkinson's is all about moving. The more I move, the better I feel.”
Cargill, of Long Lake, said some of the same things.
“It's about moving,” she said. “It's why ping-pong and ballroom dancing are popular with people with Parkinson's.”
“My aunt thought I was hitting other people,” she laughed, “but when friends say boxing is not their thing, I''ll always tell them to give it a try.”
For Cargill, having a class on the western side of cities is the deal.
“It has to be convenient,” she said. “I'm not going downtown.”
Cary Shaich lives in Plymouth and works in Eden Prairie.
“By coincidence, Mike and I are neighbors,” said Shaich, of his path to boxing. “I was just diagnosed. I would do normal workouts like lifting or running on a treadmill, but that was boring. This (boxing) is fun.
“You can do it any level,” he added. “If you sit in chair, you can take the class from a chair. It doesn't matter what the age. I'm 76 and probably the oldest one here.”
Without question, Shaich's favorite activity is sparring.
“I like it because it makes me think,” he said. “It's like dessert after a big dinner. It's good energy and it's invigorating.”
A 76-year-old boxer?
“I'm fighting Parkinson's,” he said, “and it's working.”