Guest Post by Gary Schmitz: Fight Back Now–Before You Lose It All

 The following is a guest post by Gary Schmitz, one of the founding boxers of Punching Out Parkinsons in Fort Worth, the inspiration for our PD Gladiators Boxing Training for PD program. The post was originally published in 2012 and is reprinted with his permission. Hopefully, Gary’s story will inspire you to start taking control of your Parkinson’ s  through diet and exercise earlier in your progression than he did, but his turn-around story is also a reminder that it’s never too late to start fighting back. Gary, thank you for sharing.

2012 – Ok so it’s my 12th anniversary since the symptoms of Parkinson’s set in. Although it has been an experience I would never wish on anyone, this year appears to be a year that has all the makings equal to a fountain of youth for me.

 2011 was brutal and left me physically and mentally exhausted. It was the first year I felt that the disease was winning. To start the year, I lost my mentor and Gary-boxing-300x200friend, Ken Diehm, my minister. I then spent 6 months going through testing and approval to have a gene therapy treatment, only to find out 5 days before the operation that I couldn’t go through it because some time in the last couple of years I suffered one, if not several, mild strokes that left scarring in the pathway of my brain where they needed to travel for the operation.  Towards the end of the year, the symptoms of dystonia started to set in on my foot, hand and shoulder/neck area. That will turn into a long painful path for the rest of my life.  I didn’t make a conscious decision to give up, but it was the expected downward drain that Parkinson’s disease takes on a person, so it wasn’t unexpected. My medication levels doubled through the year as well, and I was up to 13 pills a day. Oh, also another unwanted milestone, I turned 50. The most troubling thing was the number of times food was getting stuck in my throat and choked me. It is the most typical way for Parkinson’s people to die, but short of dying, it is extremely painful.

I had a couple weeks off around Christmas and was thinking I really wanted to spend more of these with my family and I wanted to be in good shape to do so. So maybe that was the spark or maybe it was my stubborn Luxemburg/German upbringing, who knows, but whatever it was caused the drive I needed to be open to look for a way to fight back and realize all that I was doing wasn’t working.

As luck would have it, my sister Jill sent me a video about that time from Dr. Terry Wahls about how she was able to get out a wheelchair she was bound to, from MS, by eating organic foods. There is a lot more to it, it is a paleo diet, or as she calls it a “hunter-gatherer diet.”  You have to eat enough of all the right foods to get the benefits; and after trying it, it did not take long to start feeling the benefits. The only deviation that I take is to go very light on the meats, if I eat any, due to the protein affecting the medication for Parkinson’s. If my start into it was good, full commitment took it to another level. I actually had energy, enough to join fellow people with Parkinson’s at Paulie Ayala’s Boxing Gym.

I had never boxed before but had loved boxing from growing up watching the likes of Mohammed Ali, Joe Frazier, Sugar Ray Leonard, Thomas Hearns and so many more. But having spent the last four years sitting in my recliner made me apprehensive of just jumping into a full blown boxing work out, but figured I could easily have an excuse if I needed it of my Parkinson’s, stroke or the fact that I am 50. Surely no one would push me further than I felt I could go, with all those built in excuses.

Well Paulie, who himself is a ex- two time world champ, could care less about excuses. When you are a boxer you can never quit and never give up. When you train people to fight, you never let them quit or give up. Because it was a theme that was repeated week in and week out, soon I started to obtain the same mentality. The training is not just punching, there is a lot of foot work, core work and any other drills that help with balance, speed, and coordination.  But make no mistake, punching the bag or the mitts brings on a release that is hard to explain. Without going on forever about it, let’s just say I love the whole workout, and often show up early to try to loosen up for the upcoming drills. I may start off slow but once I get going, I seem to lose most of the symptomatic issues from PD.

Starting out, I was amazed at all the coordination I lost, whether it was from the stroke or the Parkinson’s, but after five months, I must say that I have regained a lot of it back. I have even started back playing basketball with the guys I used to, and I actually move better than I had four years ago.

So what does this all mean? Well, the diet alone has done wonders for my digestive issues, energy and sleeping. I was up four or five nights a week last year, sleeping maybe an hour or two on those nights. This year I sleep on a very consistent level of 6 to 7 hours every night. Add the boxing workouts with it, and I allowed my body to tell me how much medication I needed.  Within the first month, I was down to levels I took three years ago, and now have taken that down to 4 pills a day on most days.  My mood is so much better than it had been and the energy I have and how my body moves is so much more improved from last year. The dystonia has been held at bay for the most part.  I do occasionally still get food stuck while trying to swallow, but it is not the frequency I had last year. I am not cured, there is no cure, but the quality of my life is greatly appreciated.

All I can say is: if I can do this with as many odds stacked against me, imagine what you can do! Don’t wait until facets of your life are being taken away from you. Work now to have a quality of life that you can enjoy for many years to come. If it doesn’t matter to you now, it will later.

–Gary Schmitz

For more information on the Dr. Terry Wahls protocol (and nutritional plan/diet) visit the website http://www.terrywahls.com/. Or CLICK HERE to learn about the successful Punching Out Parkinsons program, which was recently featured on ESPN. But don’t just look at these successful programs and wish there was something like it in your neck of the woods. I woke up one chilly October morning with my hands clacking on the keyboard and emailed Paul Delgado cold to see if he might be interested in starting a boxing training program in Atlanta. Two weeks later I called Gary Schmitz for advice. A few weeks after that we had agreed to the terms of the program and convinced the Georgia chapters of the NPF and the APDA to sponsor us. On January 4th, 20 people with Parkinson’s and care partners, men and women, young and old, hit the Delgado Boxing Gym running and haven’t stopped since. You can take control of your Parkinson’s. Start fighting back now!

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