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Cloverdale classes help Surrey residents punch back at Parkinson’s symptoms

Trainer says classes get results because they help strengthen mind-body connection
Albert (Bert) Leger, left, and Frankie La Sasso work out during a Punch Out Parkinson’s boxing class at Box2Fit in Surrey on Wednesday, July 20. (Photo: Anna Burns/Surrey Now-Leader)

By Anna Burns, Surrey Now-Leader

Bert Leger is punching his way to his best life.

The 68-year-old, who struggles with Parkinson’s-like symptoms, is getting around better and says he’s healthier and lighter. He credits the Box2Fit Punch out Parkinson’s classes he started attending five months ago.

In fact, he says they saved his life.

When Leger started the classes, he walked in with activator sticks, which are designed to help people with long-term conditions like Parkinson’s.

“Now I don’t need them,” he said. “My health is better, my weight’s down.”

Results like Leger’s aren’t news to Box2Fit gym owner Frankie La Sasso.

He said the reason his classes have been so successful for people with Parkinson’s is because it helps strengthen the mind-body connection. It forces the person to think.

“You got to be ready to throw the next combo, and the next combo,” La Sasso said. “You got to be able to put those numbers with your hands at the same time – when you watch two men fighting each other, they’re both thinking and moving at the same time.”

La Sasso has a background as a physiotherapist assistant and a fighter. He became certified in Rocksteady boxing, a program known worldwide for teaching boxing to people with Parkinson’s disease, and after being affiliated with them for a while, he decided to start his own classes at his gym about five years ago.

He said his Punch out Parkinson’s programs are not therapy. People walk in the door and are taught the basics of boxing but with an individualistic approach. The classes specifically focus on balance, strength, conditioning and, of course, boxing.

Frankie La Sasso works with Judy Rivard during a Punch out Parkinson’s boxing class at Box2Fit in Surrey on Wednesday, July 20. (Photo: Anna Burns/Surrey Now-Leader)

Box2Fit trainer Lauren La Sasso, Frankie’s mother, said exercises are often modified depending on the individual’s symptoms and situation.

She said people attending the class report that their doctors will ask what they are doing because their symptoms have been staved off.

Furthermore, the La Sassos wanted to find a way to bring everyone who attends the classes together, so once a month they host a dinner at a local restaurant and invite attendees to join them.

Lauren said this helps create a family-like community built on a shared commonality.

“Parkinson’s is unique for each person, but to meet a new friend that knows what it’s like for you to put your shirt on in the morning to understand kind of some of the things that you’re going through something that your friends for life would never understand,” said Frankie.

During the summer, the hour-long Punch out Parkinson’s classes run Monday, Wednesday, Friday at 11 a.m. at Box2Fit’s Cloverdale location (17767 64 Ave.). In the fall, the La Sassos plan to hold classes five days a week. Box2Fit also holds classes at its White Rock location (1493 Johnston Rd.) Classes cost $150 a month and people can come to as many classes as they would like.

Parkinson’s is the world’s fastest growing neurodegenerative disease. Movement is normally controlled by dopamine, a chemical that carries signals between the nerves in the brain. When cells that normally produce dopamine die, the symptoms of Parkinson’s appear. According to Parkinson Canada, more than 100,000 Canadians live with Parkinson’s and 25 more are diagnosed every day.

Click here to learn more about Parkinson’s disease.

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Frankie La Sasso in his Box2Fit gym in Surrey on Wednesday, July 20. La Sasso current runs classes three times a week for people with Parkinson’s. (Photo: Anna Burns/Surrey Now-Leader)