Jesse Pineiro needed to take a breath between exercises.
The Nelson Boxing Club coach gestured to his student, a 79-year-old man who had gingerly taken a seat nearby, and said, “You’re getting fitter, I’m getting worse.”
“I’ll give you some of my pills,” quipped Bob Browning.
Browning has been training at the gym, twice a week for about three months. Five years ago soreness in his arm led to Parkinson’s, which is a neurodegenerative disease that affects movement. What that’s meant for Browning is stiff muscles, poor balance and a hoarse voice.
“It’s a sneaky disease,” he said. “You can have it for 10 years and not know it. It kind of sneaks up on you real slow.”
He’s not a boxing fan — his interest began and ended with Muhammad Ali, who also suffered from Parkinson’s. But, after reading online that the sport could help restore movement in people with Parkinson’s, Browning showed up on Pineiro’s doorstep.
“I’m not so much into the boxing. It’s the exercises that I’m after,” said Browning.
A 2011 paper published in Physical Therapy showed boxing training can benefit people living with Parkinson’s, but Pineiro hadn’t previously had experience working with the disease. While with Team B.C. in Salmon Arm, Pineiro consulted with coach Peggy Maerz, who trains groups of people suffering from Parkinson’s.
“We’re not really training boxing, we’re training Parkinson’s,” said Pineiro, who said the disease is forcing Browning’s movements and balance to fold in. The exercises, therefore, are focused on getting Browning to open up with exaggerated motions in his hands and feet while standing tall.
“If we repeat it over and over and over again, the big motions that (Browning) doesn’t do in his everyday life or he does less and less, we’re hoping to turn back the clock a little on Parkinson’s.”
On this day, Pineiro and Browning began their hour-long workout by passing a soccer ball to get Browning moving his legs. Pineiro also had Browning move clockwise around a square while throwing punches, and used traditional boxing equipment like a speed bag to stimulate Browning’s reaction time.
Browning hopes all this work pays off in little improvements to his daily life with the disease.
“It’s something you can live with and you can last a long time,” he said. “Michael J. Fox has lasted a long time. He got it when he was 29. … It’s something you can tolerate but it’s a pain in the neck.”
At one point, Pineiro pulls out a mat and asks Browning to try five pushups.
“Twenty years ago I could have done it,” says Browning, to which Pineiro replies, “This thing’s a time machine.”
Browning completes two pushups. The next time he visits, the pair agree, he’ll do three.