Zach Guza’s father had Parkinson’s disease and was not encouraged to exercise which has been proven to help defray mobility constraints caused by Parkinson’s. Discovering this changed Zach’s life. He now owns his own business, Rock Steady Boxing, the first program in the country dedicated to those with Parkinson’s. He is a past KiMe Award recipient and USAF Academy graduate.
Rock Steady Boxing is a global organization. I am the Knoxville affiliate. The design of it is to convert boxing into a fitness program for people with Parkinson’s. It was developed because boxing fits so well with the Parkinson’s symptoms and needs in terms of the multi-dimensional movement and speed and power and coordination and memory. It’s amazing to see the intensity and the coordination and how all of that fits together to really, really, help people with Parkinson’s. My Dad had Parkinson’s and his doctors just didn’t know about the benefits of exercise. When it started getting difficult and he started stumbling, they said, “ok stop. Just don’t do that anymore, it’s not worth the risk”. He didn’t have the expertise, the advice to keep going, to keep working. My Dad had to experience this long drawn out slow decline. He went from a big happy gregarious person to small and quiet and scared and withdrawn. Absolutely unnecessary. When I found Rock Steady, I was glad to bring it to as many people as I can—to keep people from going through what my Dad went through.
Even people in wheelchairs can do Rock Steady Boxing. If somebody in a wheelchair is willing to come in and fight, we can make it work. But I also have other programs like the Parkinson’s Wellness Recovery Program, where it can be done entirely seated and it’s still great for posture and reaching and standing up tall and sitting. Done seated, done standing, done on the floor, done lying down. we just keep going every direction in every way possible. So, if somebody’s hands are injured or their shoulders are bad or they just don’t want to box, it’s a good option. Any exercise is good. Any exercise that you’ll do routinely and frequently is even better.
It can be very, very, difficult to get people to exercise and enjoy it and not see it as some sort of punishment. But exercise is also the most rewarding. One of my favorite stories is we’ve had several people come shuffling in the door with their cane and their boxing gloves. They walk in there without knowing that they’re strong. They get warmed up and we get boxing, and we finish up and everyone struggles. But then they leave, and they forget their cane! The best part? Saying, “Hey you forgot your cane!” And they trot across the parking lot to pick it up. It’s reminding people how strong they are— that’s how it works. And that’s the beauty of exercise and of Rock Steady Boxing.
Black Dog Fitness started a new program involving line dancing for those with Parkinson’s. Dancing in general is good for people with Parkinson’s. There are specific dances that have been proven to be more effective, but line dancing is so good. You have to memorize the moves, you have to sync up with the music, and make your body do it the same way, over, and over, and over. When it clicks it really clicks and it is fun because there’s a whole group of people doing it together. You don’t have to have a partner. You’re not doing fancy moves. It’s just dancing.
I learned about KiMe because Steve Hodges was one of my very first boxers at Rock Steady. I got to know him and KiMe and started to admire what was going on and what they were doing. They bring more research to light—the mission and the drive and the integrity in which they do it is very impressive. We have a bunch of people fighting the same fight, so we might as well help. A few years later, I was honored with the KiMe Impact Award— it was absolutely an incredible honor. It was a total surprise to me and 100% an honor.
Note: Since 2012, the KiMe Impact Award has been given to a company or an individual that has made a significant difference in the Parkinson’s community at the annual Shakin’ Not Stirred Fundraiser and Gala. Zach became the 8th recipient of this honor in 2019.
I’ve had people come into the gym and they say, “Hey, when’s the class for people with Parkinson’s?” And I say, “Right now! This is them… They’re working hard. Try to keep up.” It isn’t just go do a couple of curls and call it a day and you’re cured. This is every day, and you have to work hard. It’s not just sweating— it’s getting strong and getting your life back. It gives people their wife back. It gives people their husband back. And that’s what people need to know, if you have Parkinson’s, you can still do stuff.
Rock Steady and the whole community built around Black Dog Fitness isn’t about the exercise so much as it’s the hope—that there are still good days ahead, that you can still do cool stuff, you can still do hard stuff. Seeing people exercise and get strong and get confident brings hope back. To see that on a daily basis and to see people go through somewhat of a transformation is incredible. It’s one of those things you have to see to believe. And that’s the beauty of Rock Steady.
About Faith McGhee
After 17-year-old Faith McGhee graduated early from Oak Ridge High School in 2022, she sought out a new assignment—researching Parkinson’s disease. It was at a 2022 KiMe Fund Volunteer meeting the idea developed. Over the next few months McGhee made time to interview doctors, caregivers and patients, chronicling their stories of the neurological disorder that steals a person’s ability to move, eat and speak. What sparked her curiosity and concern? Faith’s grandfather has suffered from Parkinson’s her whole life. “The word I would use to describe him—it’s just strong,” she said. “He’s persevered through everything and he’s always been there for me and I try to do the same for him now.” Faith intends for these interviews to be a source of information, education and inspiration.