Punching past Parkinson’s

Lois Dockham takes on a speed bag during a Rock Steady class. She might be smaller than her classmates, but she has the speed bag pounding the wall just like the rest. Photo by Shelby Tankersley.
Lois Dockham takes on a speed bag during a Rock Steady class. She might be smaller than her classmates, but she has the speed bag pounding the wall just like the rest. Photo by Shelby Tankersley.

Andy Pastue remembers a time in the not-so-distant past when he couldn’t move around without the help of a walker. After he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, his balance started to decline which, unsurprisingly, started to have a massive effect on his everyday life.

But now, he walks into the gym and does lunges. He stands on his feet and throws punches at a speed bag. He picks up a bat and swings it back and forth. He attributes his renewed ability to do all of this to the Rock Steady Boxing program.

“The thing I’ve seen a really big difference in is my balance,” Pastue said. “My speech is what I’m really working on right now; I slur a little bit… But I’m not walking around with a cane or a walker anymore; that’s been a big improvement in my life.”

Pastue joined Rocky Steady in Troy roughly two years ago and, when Bullz Boxing in Oxford started a program, he started going there to save time on the road. Bullz’ program, taught by owner and professional boxer Wyle “Bull” Abboud, is more comprehensive in Pastue’s opinion than other Rocky Steady programs he has seen. Abboud’s gym comes complete with speed bags, heavy bags, equipment fit for boxers and even a ring to step into.

“It’s really nice having this gym with all of this boxing equipment, because some gyms don’t have all of this,” Pastue’s wife, Allie Pastue, said.

Aside from Abboud and some of his staff, the class at Bullz is taught with the help of physical therapists and a few volunteers. The dozen or so students, all Parkinson’s patients, start the class talking and trading life experience before they jump into the day’s workout, which is always a mix of balance, vocal exercises, boxing and a few other things.

Boxing yields many benefits for the program’s students. The hard contact that comes with it helps steady the hands and feet of the students.

Pastue enjoys the classes not just for the boxing, but because the environment provides him and the others with support without being a sad, hope-draining environment like some support groups can become.

“I love the comradery (with) all of these nice men and women,” he said. “We’re all here for the same reason, we’re all going through the same thing… It’s nice to hear how they’re dealing with it and how they’re going forward. I’ve been to support groups, and they’re usually downers. I hate to say that, but that’s the way it is. Here, it’s not that way. We get here and take it out on the bags.”

For Abboud, the friendships have become his favorite part of the program. Aside from teaching the students his favorite sport, he enjoys having a front row seat to the improvement of their quality of life and getting to encourage them however he can.

“They come in here and, even though they get down, they’re just happy to be here,” he said. “Heck, last year it was below zero, and everyone showed up like they had a title fight coming up. (Rock Steady) is a good program, I can’t say enough good about it.”

Abboud has seen students regain their ability to walk, write and have renewed confidence in themselves to go about their lives. Even though he’s the one helping them, Abboud thinks of his Rock Steady students as “angels” in his life.

“I tell them ‘You guys are touched, man, by God,’” he said. “They’re blessed in different ways, it’s hard to explain. There’s a certain magic about each and every one of them.”

Three days a week, Abboud looks forward to a few hours spent with some of his favorite students, like Pastue. He hopes the sport he has spent his life loving will change lives for the better.

“It’s almost like an extended family,” he said. “I’m with them, you know, until the end.”