Norfolk boxing gym fights Parkinson’s Disease

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Inside of Box-N-Go Gym in Norfolk, there are fighters training for their next rumble in the ring.

However, 61-year-old Price Dodson's opponent is not on the other end of his jab.

"I started developing a trimmer in my right hand," said Dodson.  "Certain movements would get slower - buttoning the cuff, small dexterous movements, and my handwriting was getting smaller."

About two years ago, doctors diagnosed Dodson with Parkinson's disease.

"At first it looks like it`s closing your life down," said Dodson.  "The things you wanted to do, you're probably not going to be able to."

Parkinson's disease is the same condition that has chipped away at legendary boxer Muhammad Ali's mobility.  Many have linked his development of Parkinson's disease to the repeated head blows he endured throughout his epic career.  So why does Dodson believe boxing will make him better?

"I saw the piece on CBS Sunday Morning about the boxing, and I said that`s so promising that I`d give it a try," Dodson explained.

CBS News Correspondent Lesley Stahl's report focused on the boxing therapy developed at the Rock Steady Boxing based in Indianapolis.  The gym's 50 locations nationwide focus on non-contact boxing to tackle the effects of Parkinson's disease.  For example, punches help lengthen and strengthen muscles.  Quick foot movement helps sufferers combat shuffling when they walk.

"In some cases they were better after the two year period," said Dr. Stephanie Combs-Miller, the director of research at the University of Indianapolis' College of Health Sciences who conducted the first major study on the effects of boxing therapy on Parkinson`s patients.

"We studied people over a two year period who participated in boxing, and we didn`t see any progression of the disease in the people that boxed," Combs-Miller said.

That is what Dodson and Box-N-Go owner and trainer Buddie Simpkins are betting on with their training, too.

"It warms the body up.  It lengthens his muscles," said Simpkins.  "When we do footwork, it helps with his balance."

Dodson hangs in there, while staying clear of any head blows or serious body contact.

"I don`t want to hit anybody, and I certainly don`t want anybody to hit me," Dodson joked.  "So I still feel like a klutz, but it`s a good klutz now."

Dodson said he is hoping to travel to the Rock Steady Boxing this year, and gather a group of Parkinson's sufferers to train with him in Norfolk as well.

"This is something physical that I can get out here and I can do," said Dodson.  "I don`t want to be known as the guy with Parkinson`s.  I`m Price Dodson, who has Parkinson`s.  That`s part of me, but not what defines me."