HAMMOND | They move much slower now, though not by choice. Their hands and feet often betray them and the inability to focus frustrates them to no end.
They have Parkinson's disease – a degenerative disorder of the central nervous system – but refuse to surrender and don't want your pity.
Providing them with "weapons" to fight back is Dennis Hardesty's Hammond Boxing Club and instructor Frank Rumoro, who is certified in the Rock Steady Boxing Method designed for Parkinson's patients.
This is boxing without the contact and consists of drills involving cardio, speed bag, heavy bag and bob-and-weave rope workouts.
Homewood's Scott Giffney, Lansing's Mark Hajduch and Munster's Mike Fortener pray the Rock Steady Method can provide them with a better quality of life and delay the ravages of this disease.
"It helps with the agility and focus," said Rumoro, who has a martial arts background and is also suffering from Parkinson's. "It helps with mobility and balance because balance is big with Parkinson's."
Rumoro was first diagnosed in 1999, at the age of 36, and walks with a slight shuffle.
"Always moving and working helps fight against the tremors, stiffness, and slows the process down," he said.
Rock Steady Boxing was formed in 2006 by Marion County Prosecutor Scott Newman, who has Parkinson's. Long-time personal trainer Kristy Follmer, a Hanover Central grad and former women's boxing champion, is largely responsible for developing the program now used by the Hammond Boxing Club.
I toured the facility and watched Scott, Mark, Mike and Frank work at various stations in and out of the ring. I was told when it's break time, they don't want to stop.
Pain and sweat won't scare them off.
"We teach real old-school boxing," Frank said. "It's not just come in and punch a bag. It's technique. There's so much to think about in boxing, it helps Parkinson's people keep their mind active.
"By the third week or so, you see it take effect."
According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, there are more than 500,000 Parkinson's patients in the United States and 50,000 new cases annually.
There is no cure.
Dennis Hardesty invites anyone with Parkinson's to try his classes. It's exerting and frustrating at times, but the benefits are worth it.
On this particular day, Mike Fortener had his own cheering block -- his two children.
"The biggest part for me is the motivation to continue on and don't give up," he said. "I've got a 4-year-old little boy and a 12-year-old little girl.
"That's the most important thing in my world."
Fortener, 47, was "devastated" when diagnosed five years ago.
"The boxing is just another way to get up, get off the couch, so you don't feel like you have a disabling disease," he said.
"There's days I can't even brush my teeth. I can't move my hand. I can't operate the mouse on my computer. Reaching into your pocket sometimes takes all your effort."
Fortener hopes the Rock Steady Method can reverse some of the effects of the damage already done.
"With vigorous exercise like boxing, there's days where I can almost feel normal again," he said.
That explains the big smiles at 250 Ogden St.