By Jeff Zimmerman
Photos: Punching Out Parkinson’s
It’s hard to believe it’s been 5 years since former 2X world champion and Fort Worth, Texas boxing legend Paulie Ayala started Punching Out Parkinson’s, his non-contact boxing program designed to help those inflicted with the nasty, dreadful disease of Parkinson’s take on the biggest fight of their life. He aptly called those that sought his help his “fighters” where he uses many of the same techniques that made him a world champion such as hitting the mitts or even the speed bag.
There is still no cure for Parkinson’s which causes a progressive disorder of the central nervous system and robs people control over their movements and can hit anyone at any time and plays no favorites.
For decades the face of Parkinson’s was Muhammad Ali, simply known as “The Greatest”, not just for his legendary boxing exploits but as a humanitarian and activist for various causes around the world. He took the fight to Parkinson’s much like he took a Joe Frazier powerful left hook, head on. He showed the world how to live with dignity and grace while he and his wife Lonnie raised millions of dollars for research in search of a cure.
It’s also a sign on how much Ayala’s program has grown in these 5 years, that Ali’s daughter, Maryum aka “May May”, will be the featured guest speaker at “Meet The Champs V”, Ayala’s annual fundraiser. It grew from just a handful of folks at the beginning to close to 100 members with a waiting list [almost as long].
May May is the oldest of Ali’s nine children and has shared a lifelong passion of helping others like her father. She has used an array of outlets to touch on social issues such as a being a comedian and a rapper in addition to 15 years in delinquency prevention and family development. She also authored a children’s picture book after her father titled, I Shook Up the World: The Incredible Life of Muhammad Ali.
She will talk about her dad and his fight against Parkinson’s that would be inspiring for any audience but especially those with the disease. And Ayala is excited to have The Greatest’s daughter as his special guest this year.
“It is a huge impact for us to have Maryum and to hear her stories of her father on his journey that he had with Parkinson’s, both as a World Champion and as her father.”
Ayala is no longer chasing world titles or title belts, but the victories he sees from his “fighters” on a daily basis is far more special than anything he ever did in the ring.
“I get a small feeling of accomplishment when I see progress in the physical aspects of fitness such as better balance and stability, strength, muscle endurance, muscle stamina and recovery. Plus just as important is when I see their mental aspect improve like their focus, mental toughness, their confidence and perception.”
Ayala is also glad that he can take all of his years in boxing and use it in a way to help those who really need it just to get from one day to another.
“I think any exercise is going to benefit, however the boxing workout touches on hand and eye coordination, movement and footwork. It also helps core conditioning for stability and balance, muscle conditioning for the shoulders and arms, back and legs. It creates muscle memory. The cognitive aspect helps with focus and reaction and it’s a great way to release dopamine and fight against stress and depression.”
Deborah Hawkins of the World Boxing Council will also be on hand for a special presentation to Maryum and the Ali family for their efforts towards Parkinson’s disease research and in support of Ayala’s Punching Out Parkinson’s program.
Past keynote speakers have included Rich Clifford, former NASA Astronaut who had a secret battle with Parkinson’s during his space travels, former 4X Boxing World Champion and Hall of Famer Terry Norris and CIA’s Chief of Disguise, Tony and Jonna Mendez.
Paulie Ayala’s Punching Out Parkinson’s “Meet The Champs V” annual fundraiser is scheduled for Saturday, February 18th at The Fort Worth Club in Fort Worth, Texas. Tickets can be purchased by calling Jan Simus Events at 817.763.5087 or by email B.Ingstad@jansimusevents.com. For more information on the program visit www.punchingoutparkinsons.org.