When the buzzer sounded, boxing-gloved fists started pounding.
Dale Nay stood from his wheelchair to reach the hanging bag, throwing right-left combos. His wife, Karen Nay, positioned herself behind him, holding the safety belt around his waist to ensure he didn’t fall.
A brain bleed 13 years ago left Dale Nay paralyzed on the right side of his body, and Parkinson’s disease had impacted his mobility and strength. But once a week, the 75-year-old puts on the gloves and becomes a boxer.
Dale Nay has been coming to the Social of Greenwood for its Rock Steady Boxing program for nearly two years. The fitness regimen is aimed at those with Parkinson’s, and the intense workouts help slow the progression of the disease.
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Without Rock Steady Boxing, he isn’t sure what he’d be able to do or what his physical condition would be. The program has made him stronger and more agile, allowing him to use his arms more and made a major impact on his life.
“I’ve been getting stronger. That’s a good sign,” he said.
Dale Nay isn’t sure how long he had been afflicted with Parkinson’s. He wasn’t diagnosed until he was in the hospital for another health issue more than two years ago.
In 2004, he suffered a brain bleed that paralyzed him on the right side of his body. He couldn’t walk or raise his arms, and even talking was a challenge, since the muscles on the right side of his diaphragm didn’t work.
His paralysis masked the signs of the disease, Karen Nay said.
While in the hospital, Dale Nay had a conversation with a neurologist who asked him how long he had Parkinson’s.
“I said, ‘What?’ I didn’t know I had it. But he could tell I could from my facial expression,” he said. “I knew I had some shakiness in my hand, but that didn’t mean anything to me. I thought I was just getting older.”
After the diagnosis, he was encouraged to stay as active as possible. He tried to walk as much as he could, though that was getting harder to do. He and Karen Nay saw some information about Rock Steady Boxing in the newspaper, and came to the Social of Greenwood to investigate it themselves.
“Anything I can do helps,” he said. “I didn’t know if there was anything out there to help Parkinson’s people, but we saw it.”
That was in 2015, and the Nays have been taking part ever since. They come once each week to a class for those who have advanced forms of the disease.
Dale Nay also does some boxing exercises at home, and rides a recumbent stationary bike to strengthen his body.
Since starting Rock Steady Boxing, Karen Nay has seen a turnaround in his abilities.
“It’s made him strong. His right arm is stronger, and his right leg is stronger. You can tell,” she said.
His mobility has improved to the point where Dale Nay, a Vietnam War veteran, was able to take part in the Indy Honor Flight in October 2016. The nonprofit organization helps fly veterans to Washington, D.C., to see important landmarks and memorials.
Dale Nay served two years in the U.S. Army, one of which was in Vietnam. He was drafted at age 24, considerably older than the other soldiers in his unit.
That earned him the nickname, “Old Man.”
“I was in there with all these 18, 19-year-old kids, trying to keep up with them. They called me the Old Man, and I felt like it too,” he said.
During his trip to Washington, D.C., with the other veterans, Dale Nay had a chance to see the Lincoln Memorial, World War II Memorial and Korean War Memorial.
He stood in front of the names on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and witnessed the solemn ceremony of the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
“He came home and said it was the best day of his life. I teased him, saying, ‘Oh, not your wedding day?’ But I really think it was the best day. It was so special,” Karen Nay said.
Dale Nay enthusiastically recommends Rock Steady Boxing to anyone who has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Start as soon as you get a diagnosis, he said.
“Start as soon as you can, and participate,” he said. “Besides getting stronger, it’s also a good fellowship. We have a good time with each other. Everybody is basically in the same place as you are.”