Dennis Matko is wearing a T-shirt that bears the likeness of Muhammad Ali for his boxing class at T&J No Limit Fitness in Powell.

It's not just boxing prowess that draws Matko to the man who called himself "The Greatest."

Like Ali, Matko has Parkinson's disease, and the 72-year-old Clintonville resident has turned to the sweet science to help combat the impact of the disease on his life.

Matko said he's been attending the gym's Parkinson's Boxing Boot Camp for about a year.

"Parkinson's is a disease that affects the brain and muscles," he said. "The course was recommended to me as a good way to get a physical and mental workout."

Jill Savage teaches the boot camp, which meets at 10:45 a.m. Wednesdays at the gym, 3801 Attucks Drive, and averages 10-12 adult participants.

She started teaching the classes about 18 months ago after training through Delay the Disease, an OhioHealth program.

Dr. David Hinkle, a neurologist with OhioHealth who works at T&J No Limit Fitness, suggested she train to offer the class.

"I have a degree in recreational therapy and have taught boxing classes for 10 years," Savage said. "There was a lot to learn about how it could be beneficial to people with Parkinson's."

Savage said abundant research shows vigorous exercise can slow down the symptoms of Parkinson's, including tremors, reduced mobility, balance issues, muscle rigidity and changes in posture and speech.

"With Parkinson's, your movements can get very small, so boxing is good to encourage big movements," she said. "It also helps with muscle rigidity, eye-hand coordination and other things specific to the disease. But we also work on a sequence of movements, which benefits cognition."

Participants come from a wide age range and are at different stages in the disease's progression. Savage said the class is structured so that participants are in control of how vigorous a workout they receive on a given day.

"I do three or four (activities) a week" to combat the disease, Matko said. "This is the last one I will miss."

Jessica Krauser was diagnosed with Parkinson's last July. The 38-year-old Powell resident said she, along with some doctors, didn't consider Parkinson's an explanation for her onset of symptoms for two years because such a small percentage of Parkinson's patients are under age 50.

"For two years, I think people thought I was crazy or a complainer. I wondered if I was a wimp," Krauser said. "When I was finally diagnosed, I said I wanted to live as normal a life as possible."

"I definitely see a benefit" to the boxing boot camp, she said. "When I miss, everything hurts more. Some things people notice, and some they don't, but I feel it."

Hinkle said there are many ways to combat the symptoms of the disease.

"Boxing inherently has all of those things -- strength and balance training, the cognitive component," he said. "What's most important is for patients to find something that works for them and that keeps you doing it.

"Having Parkinson's doesn't mean you can't get fit, that you can't get strong," Hinkle said. "Some of the patients I see in my clinic who are doing these classes are in better shape than I am."

The class helps participants in ways beyond symptom suppression, Savage said.

"Everybody helps and supports each other," she said. "That might be the class' biggest benefit."

Matko said an "unintended consequence" is the personal fellowship with other people in the same circumstance, and Krauser agreed.

"The social aspect was huge," she said. "Having a community ... I didn't know anyone with Parkinson's."

Gym owner Theo Sakellaris said he supported Savage's efforts from the start, in part because his uncle has Parkinson's.

"Boxing is empowering," Sakellaris said. "The power these people have inside them to keep coming and working out -- they are fighters. The group has become like a family."

"It's my favorite part of the week," Savage said.

For more information, call T&J No Limit Fitness at 614-659-7532 or go to tjnolimitfitness.com.

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