‘We give them hope’: Retired prison guard helps those with Parkinson’s learn boxing

Boxing has been proven to slow progression of Parkinson's disease

MADISON, Wis. — There’s a technique to throwing a good punch.

Patti Batt lists some of the skills needed.

“In order to box, you have to have balance, you have to have coordination, you have to have agility, you have to have speed.”

For one group of boxers, they would say you also need Batt.

“I can’t imagine boxing without her and her leadership and her enthusiasm and her energy,” Mary Greenlaw-Meyer said. “Just watch her, she’s a fire pistol.”

And the group is giving it everything they have.

“They come in and work just as hard as anyone in this gym, and I think fighters is the best term because not only are they fighting as far as boxing but they’re also fighting against Parkinson’s, which is the big thing,” Batt said.

While there is no cure for Parkinson’s, boxing has been proven to slow down the disease’s progression.

“It’s a devastating diagnosis,” Greenlaw-Meyer said,” and I went through sadness, and now I’m sort of at the point, ‘Okay, if this is what I have to deal with, how do I deal with it as well as I can?'”

Batt, a retired prison guard, has found a new purpose in her life, making sure her boxers — her athletes — keep fighting. They’re doing so with the help of the Rock Steady Boxing class specifically designed for those with the disease.

“Here’s a place where they can come, where they’re with people like themselves,” Batt said. “They get support, they get hope, and I feel that’s what it’s all about; if you don’t have hope… it’s like we’re hope givers.”

As any professional boxer will attest, it’s not just the body that needs training; the mind does, too.

“In boxing, the punches are numbered, and you think of a 1-2-3-4-5-6, we can put combinations together and challenge them and challenge their brain,” Batt said.

And for these boxers, it’s working.

“I didn’t want to live, and this has brought me joy,” Greenlaw-Meyer said, pausing as her voice cracked. “That’s all I can say. This has brought me joy. She is so special. This program is so special. It meets needs. It meets emotional needs. It meets physical needs. It meets social needs.”

“It gives me strength to carry on, to go on, to chase another day,” boxer Jay “Caveman” Olsen, who has been fighting since 2009, said.

It also provides what Batt would hang her gloves on if she could: hope.

“We open a door, we bring them in, we give them hope,” she said. “I mean without hope, what is there?”

Parkinson’s may push the boxers to their limits, but they’re not going down without a good fight.

“The hope is if we hang around here long enough, there might be medications, there might be a cure or there might be an acceptance and a calming of the spirit,” Greenlaw-Meyer said. “That allows us to live a good life despite a disease.”

To learn more about joining the class at Bakke Athletics, call 608-279-5388.