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VIDEO: Boxing class for Parkinson’s in Surrey packs a punch

‘When you walk in here, you leave your disability at the door,’ says founder Frankie La Sasso
Frankie La Sasso has been teaching boxing classes for people with Parkinson’s since March. (Trevor Beggs)

If you think boxing is only for the Conor McGregor’s and Manny Pacquiao’s of the world, Frankie La Sasso has a message for you.

“Boxing is for everyone.”

That’s the motto that La Sasso, 35, has employed for his ‘Box 2 Fit’ classes in South Surrey. His attitude has led him down a path he never thought he’d be on.

In March, La Sasso started teaching boxing classes specifically for people with Parkinson’s disease. It’s a full-time gig for him as he teaches those classes Monday through Friday.

“I didn’t think it would take over my life like it has,” said La Sasso. “After hearing how Parkinson’s affected these people, it’s really taken over my life.”

“It gives my life meaning and it warms my heart to teach these people my passion.”

Before opening up his Box 2 Fit gym two years ago at the ‘Pink Palace’ in South Surrey, La Sasso was a recreational therapist at the Crescent Gardens retirement home right beside his new workplace. It was there where he was told that Parkinsons and boxing is a good match.

La Sasso ended up going to school in Indianapolis to complete the Rock Steady Program, which is the only program in North America that certifies people to teach boxing to those with Parkinson’s. He completed the program after the Parkinson Society British Columbia. decided to recognize his work.

“I figured it was a good way to mix my passion for boxing with my work,” said La Sasso. “I’m so happy that I’m doing this for a living.

“I feel so blessed. It feels like a calling for me, like this is exactly what I’m supposed to be doing.”

La Sasso and some of the members of his class talk about that feeling of camaraderie, and part of that is attributed to how often the classes run.

“When I first see people, they tell me they’re only gonna show up once or twice a week. Next thing you know, they’re in here three or four times a week.

Some of them even go the distance and attend all five days out of the week

“I’m here Monday to Friday,” said Brien Smith, 65.

“He’s a really solid and compassionate person, especially for the Parkinson’s community,” said Smith. He visits hospitals and he’s really great with keeping in touch with everybody when they aren’t feeling well.”

La Sasso is even attracting regulars from across the border.

Jeff Kaplan, 74, drives up from Bellingham every day of the week from Monday to Friday to attend La Sasso’s class.

“The classes are good,” said Kaplan. “They don’t waste any time and I get a good workout every time. I think its good for me generally.”

La Sasso says that he’s starting to see the effects of his program in some of the regulars.

“I’m seeing people feel better after a workout,” he said. “I see them walking a lot faster, they have faster movements during the workouts, and some of them have better speech.”

During his classes, La Sasso will call out someone’s name to lead the count during boxing exercises.

“We do a lot of speech, there’s a lot of yelling going on in here,” he said.

While the effects of the exercise are positive, Kaplan also loves the classes for other reasons.

“I love banging on the bags because you get to hit them really hard and pretend that they were an old high school bully who used to torture you or a politician who you deeply dislike,” Kaplan said.

While La Sasso dedicates himself to teaching people with Parkinson’s how to box and stay fit, he says that a lot of the credit goes to the spouses.

“A lot of help comes from the spouses,” said La Sasso. “They’re the cornermen.”

While the spouses are an integral part of his classes, La Sasso is also open to having recreation therapy students join him to help out. He hopes that they become as inspired as him.

“The most rewarding part of these classes is the smiles I see, not only from the fighters but from their spouses.”

“Seeing people show up here is what gets me out of bed every day. I can’t wait to see everybody and see who’s going to show up.”

Although La Sasso’s Boxing for Parkinson’s classes are a regular occurrence, he also works with people who have cerebral palsy and autism.“

When you walk in here, you leave your disability at the door,” he said.

“I treat everyone in here the same. I treat everyone in here like a fighter. I treat them no differently than my regular boxing boot camp classes.”

La Sasso doesn’t just teach classes for Parkinson’s, but for everyone who’s willing to learn boxing. He’s recently opened up a second location in South Surrey near 152nd Street and 32nd Avenue, as he looks to grow his gym.

He teaches regular classes during evenings on weekdays and even works with sports teams like the Surrey Eagles and Delta Ice Hawks.

“Non-contact boxing is very therapeutic,” he said. “I want my doors to be open to everyone.”

La Sasso grew up with boxing as a regular part of his life. His father was a boxing promoter, and La Sasso has been involved with the sport since he was six years old.

Before Box 2 Fit opened up, La Sasso even spent some time down in Nicaragua teaching boxing classes, where his father now lives.

“I was raised in the gym,” said La Sasso. “Boxing has always been my passion.”

He’s now mixed his passion with compassion for those with Parkinson’s to create a unique program that has drawn in a dedicated community of individuals.

“Parkinson’s could hit you, or me, or anybody,” he said.

One of the main goals of La Sasso’s classes is that he doesn’t want to treat people with Parkinson’s any differently.

“It’s just like my regular classes. These people are learning the fundamentals of boxing. They’re learning the left-to-right motions of doing punches.”

“The exercise is giving them brain stimulation, which is helping them produce dopamine, leaving them feeling energized after a workout.”

“At the end of the day, these people are true fighters in my eyes,” said La Sasso. “Even though everyone in this class has Parkinson’s, you leave your Parkinson’s at the door when you walk in here.”

Corrections: An earlier version of this article stated that La Sasso’s class was the only facility that taught boxing to people with Parkinson’s five days a week. The Rock Steady boxing program in New Westminster also teaches boxing to people with Parkinson’s five days a week, while the Rock Steady boxing facility in Vancouver has classes four days of the week. A Rock Steady boxing studio in Abbotsford will also open up soon.

For people interested in the program residing outside of the Lower Mainland, there are also three Rock Steady Boxing facilities on Vancouver Island in Port Alberni, Parksville and Brentwood Bay. A fourth is opening soon in Victoria.

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La Sasso leads the warm-up for his Box 2 Fit Class at the ‘Pink Palace’ in South Surrey. (Trevor Beggs)