Some central Albertans living with Parkinson’s are fighting back thanks to a new boxing gym in Lacombe.

The Shadowbox Gym opened in the middle of July and offers the Dopamine Boxing program for those living with the disease.

“I’ve worked with world champion boxers, martial artists, mixed martial artists and I have to tell that these people are the toughest and have the most strength of character I’ve seen out of anybody,” said boxing coach Doug Rowe.

This is the third location in the region that offers boxing for those with Parkinson’s, with other programs located in Red Deer and Olds.

“We had five people driving all the way from Lacombe to Red Deer. Then we had another two driving from Ponoka and then we had some driving from Rimbey. What they found with Parkinson’s is there is a really strong rural connection, they don’t exactly what that reason is and so I think doing programs in the more rural communities, I think just makes a whole lot of sense,” said Rowe.

“That just means less travelling for our clients who sometimes driving or travelling can be tiresome or an issue, if medication wears off it could also not be safe, so just having them more throughout the region and more accessible to these rural people gives them a chance to access some programs and not have to travel so far,” said Parkinson’s Association of Alberta Client Services Coordinator Courtney Ukrainetz.

Around 10,000 Albertans are living with Parkinson’s. Exercise is known to help those living with the disease and boxers have noticed a difference.

“It helps with my total balance, strength, coordination. It’s really improved my mental attitude. You just feel so much better after you work out,” said Kim Gardner.

Gardner was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2013 and has been boxing at the Red Deer location for three years. He transferred over to the Lacombe program when it opened since he lives in the community.

“With neurological diseases such as Parkinson’s and Multiple Sclerosis, it’s very important to stay physically active and I see that benefit just from being in this program. If I miss it for a week or two, I can tell right away,” he added.

Another boxer, Diane Jegou, just began the program a few months ago and says she already seeing the benefits.

“It’s made me stronger. I used to hunch over, I was starting to hunch over and I’m stronger, standing up straighter now. I used to have Parkinson’s face where you show no expression and I’m starting to smile a lot more.”

Boxers have even seen improvements on the Parkinson’s scale, a rating tool to determine how severe symptoms are.

“We had one fellow who had 34 on the Parkinson’s scale, he’s down to 17 on the Parkinson’s scale. We have another fellow that was 23 on the Parkinson’s scale, he’s down to seven on the Parkinson’s scale. Before boxing came into play it was unheard of, the best you could ever hope for was stabilization of Parkinson’s, never improvement, now we’re getting improvements and we’re thrilled,” said Rowe.

However, the program offers more than just relief.

“Everybody encourages each other, we’re one big happy crazy family, we have a lot of fun and we like to poke fun at each other,” says Harder.

“It’s just like a support group. Everybody talks to one another before and after and we get together on the side after boxing. It’s very helpful, everybody is going through similar things so you can share your experiences with them,” said Jegou.

The Parkinson’s Association of Alberta works with the Dopamine Program to not only refer potential boxers but to connect people to support services and programming. This includes one-on-one supportive counselling, helping people set up care or find care homes and peer support.

For more information, contact or by phone at 403-346-4463.