MONROE CITY, Mo. (AP) — Mike Crager's boxing gym isn't filled with young people aspiring to a career in the ring, but rather men and women whose fight is with Parkinson's disease.
The Hannibal Courier-Post reported Crager's Rock Steady Boxing opened in January in the northeast Missouri town of Monroe City. It's an affiliate of a nonprofit founded 12 years ago by a former Indiana prosecutor living with the disease.
Monroe City participants come from as far as 20 miles away in their effort to slow progression of the neurodegenerative disorder that can manifest itself in an assortment of ways, ranging from shaky hands to a shuffling gate to body rigidity. Muhammad Ali suffered from Parkinson's. So does actor Michael J. Fox.
Crager, 53, knows what they're going through. He was diagnosed with Parkinson's in 2006.
Crager said participants in his gym are a dedicated group.
"I love being around these fighters," he said. "They don't realize how much they inspire me to be a better person and to keep in shape so I can help them keep in shape."
Crager leads participants through flexibility, balance, light weight training and boxing drills. He said his biggest concern is that they'll work too hard.
"As a coach you have to monitor them so they don't overdo it because they all want to do their best in order to fight this disease," Crager said.
Boxing provides a full-body workout, Crager said. One of his students already has lost nearly 50 pounds.
Then there are the intangibles.
"Maybe the greatest benefits are the friendships and bonds they make with other Parkinson fighters," Crager said. "It also helps them to be with people facing the same problems and encouraging each other to do their best and not give up."
Crager, a teacher and coach in Monroe City for 29 years before retiring two years ago, does his own Rock Steady workout four or five times a week.
"It has helped me physically," he said. "I know that if I didn't work out, I wouldn't be able to do things with my family that I love to do, like vacationing, sports or just taking walks with my wife."