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Mruk Family Education Center on Aging Offers Rock Steady Boxing to Fight Parkinson's Disease

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  • Written By: Deborah Staunch
Mruk Family Education Center on Aging Offers Rock Steady Boxing to Fight Parkinson's Disease

They may not look like most fighters in a boxing ring, but Debbie Hagee and Margo Maglione, two participants and coaches of Rock Steady Boxing Mountain Home, a program of the Mruk Family Education Center on Aging, fight their own personal battles with Parkinson’s disease every day.

Hagee clearly remembers the day nearly six years ago when she was told she had Parkinson’s. She admits going into denial for a few months until she learned about Rock Steady Boxing and decided, “What did I have to lose?”

Rock Steady Boxing is a non-contact boxing and fitness program dedicated to helping people who are diagnosed with all levels of Parkinson’s disease. The innovative classes, divided into four levels based upon each person’s unique Parkinson’s symptoms and overall level of fitness, get results and even slow down the disease’s progression. Level 1 provides a high-intensity workout; Level 2, for those with more visible symptoms, is modified as needed; Level 3 involves much slower movements and Level 4, for those in the later stage of the disease, has one-on-one assistance to reduce the risk of falls.

“We currently have 26 active participants. Our classes meet the needs of all levels of Parkinson’s disease,” said Diahanne VanGulick, coordinator at the Mruk Family Education Center on Aging who oversees the Rock Steady Boxing Program. “No one is exempt!”

“They (the Rock Steady Boxing group) became my second family,” said Hagee. “Everyone was friendly, concerned, supportive and understanding. It was a place I could let my hair down.”

In addition to being a participant, she volunteered and became a certified coach. “My goal is to help my fighters realize they can slow the progression of the disease. When they look at me, they see someone who is going through it, too. What’s the saying? ‘Been there, done that, got the T-shirt.’”

Maglione says she had always been physically active. When she was diagnosed with Parkinson’s 11 years ago, she was living in the St. Louis area where she became involved with research studies on the impact of exercise slowing the disease’s progression being conducted at Washington University.

After moving to the Twin Lakes Area, she saw a flyer on Rock Steady Boxing at her doctor’s office and became a participant and then a certified coach. “I was so grateful to the other Rock Steady coaches for all the help and hope they gave me. They inspired me to give back to others with Parkinson’s.”

The disease did not slow Maglione down. She continued water skiing, rock climbing and playing tennis. While playing tennis with her friend Lisa Gilcrease, who does not have Parkinson’s, she talked frequently and enthusiastically about the boxing program.

“To satisfy my curiosity, I accepted her invitation to attend a class,” said Gilcrease who was so impressed by the program and participants, she became a volunteer, a certified coach and is now the Rock Steady assistant. “I’ve learned combating the symptoms of Parkinson’s isn’t easy, but working with this group of fighters, I see such determination, strength and dedication. It makes me want to fight beside them.”

“Lisa is one of the most creative people I have met,” said VanGulick. “She brings so many talents and skills to our program. Her love and compassion for each of our fighters is always evident in the way she listens and guides. We are so blessed to have her!

“Debbie and Margo, these women who have Parkinson’s, are amazing and inspiring. Not only do they identify with the students they coach, but they are able to empathize with them in a very special way. The challenges they face because of this disease are usually not something most people see or understand. But I know they face those challenges every day and yet they are two of the most determined women I have ever met.

“We send a message of hope and motivation to our boxers,” said VanGulick. “They may not win titles or trophies, but they are all champions in the Rock Steady Boxing Ring.”

The Rock Steady Boxing program was introduced to Baxter Regional and the Mruk Center in 2016 by attorney Randall Drake, who serves on the Hospital Foundation Board of Directors as the deferred gifts chairman. Baxter Regional was the first hospital in Arkansas to offer the program which today is offered at over 800 locations in the United States.


For information on the Rock Steady Boxing Mountain Home program, call VanGulick at 870-508-3880. Participants will need a primary care physician’s authorization and a referral to the Baxter Regional Physical Therapy Department. All classes are held at the Baxter Regional Wellness Education Center located at 2545 Highway 5 North in Mountain Home.