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Fighting Parkinson's During a Pandemic

Ash Tsuji

Born and raised in Hilo, Ash Graduated from the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa with a bachelors in Communication and a published paper in the Journ...

Born and raised in Hilo, Ash Graduated from the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa with a bachelors in Communication and a published paper in the Journ...

Apr 22 4 minutes read

It’s Parkinson’s Awareness Month and this April is special because it’s the first time we’ve been fighting the disease after a year of COVID lockdown. 

My step dad was diagnosed with Parkinson’s a while back and I learned how the brain disorder causes shaking and stiffness, making it hard for him to walk, move, or even eat. While there’s no cure, studies show that high intensity exercise, such as boxing, is the best medicine. 

Fighting Back
Rock Steady Boxing was created specifically for Parkinson’s patients to help with balance and walking through high intensity exercise. There are almost 900 certified gyms around the world, and Hilo led the way opening the first gym in Hawai`i. I even wrote a blog about it in HMSA’s Island Scene :)

Fighting Through COVID
Before COVID, our group met twice a week at the Waiakea Recreation Center. When things shut down, we did a digital pivot and jumped on Zoom for virtual classes. It took some trial and error, but eventually we adjusted our routine and created an online program that kept everyone active while staying safe at home. 

Virtual Pros & Cons
Like anything else, there are good and bad things that come with online classes.


  • Safe at home. With Parkinson’s, everything is a struggle, from getting out of bed, to putting on clothes, and getting to the gym. With online classes, you can roll right out of bed and start working out. 
  • Frequency. We moved from two times a week in person to three times a week online since we didn’t have to rely on facility availability. And when it comes to Parkinson’s and exercise, more is better!
  • Global. Going online means people can join from anywhere in the world. We’ve had people log in from Kona, O`ahu, even from California and Arizona!


  • Interaction. Part of Rock Steady Boxing is being around people who know exactly what you're going through. Parkinson’s patients try to hide their tremors to appear “normal”, but in our group, everyone can be themselves without fear of judgement. 
  • Motivation. Working out in a group automatically gives you an extra push! Alone, it’s easy for our fighters to relax and not get the full benefit of the high intensity training they need.
  • Technology. Some fighters  had difficulty logging in or seeing the screen when using their phone or table. I made a video to show people how to connect on their TV, but many chose not to participate at all. 

Moving Forward
With the vaccine and low number of COVID cases in the community, some Rock Steady Boxing groups started opening up again. Some gyms allow a limited number of people, offer outdoor classes, or have hybrid classes that combine in person and online training. 

Our Rock Steady Boxing gym at the Waiakea Recreation Center is still closed, but we’re looking forward to opening up again to continue our fight against Parkinson’s. Until then, we keep Zooming on!

For more information on Hilo Rock Steady BoxingHilo YMCA Parkinson’s Exercise Class, or Hilo Parkinson’s Support group, just email me!

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