- Associated Press - Friday, April 7, 2017

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (AP) - Paul Kahmann was the first through the doors at Smitty’s Mid-West Boxing Gym on Thursday morning. He walked slowly across the gym, sat down in front of Coach Smitty’s desk and held out his shaking hands.

Smitty, whose real name is Darrell Smith, carefully wrapped Kahmann’s hands.

“What we don’t want people to think is just because you’ve got Parkinson’s disease, it’s a death sentence,” Smith said, helping with Kahmann’s gloves. “It doesn’t mean you can’t be independent.”

Smith set a timer with a buzzer to go off every 30 seconds and Kahmann, who has battled Parkinson’s Disease for four years, went to work.

As Kahmann rhythmically punched the bag, the shaking in his hands subsided. He pounded away until the buzzer went off. He rested for 30 seconds and then started again. Once he was warmed up, Kahmann was able to box for two minutes with no breaks.

According to Smith, that’s a vast improvement from when Kahmann started a few weeks ago.

“When he first started, he could go for about 15 seconds,” Smith said. “He was really slow. Now he’s throwing all kinds of combos.”

The Springfield News-Leader (https://sgfnow.co/2otnSkv ) reports that Smith began offering free boxing classes to people with Parkinson’s Disease and senior citizens about five weeks ago. He has since expanded the free classes to include children with autism. The free classes are 9-11 a.m. Monday through Thursday at his gym located at 1135 E. Commercial St.

Smith said he usually has up to 12 students but hopes that number will increase to 35 or so.

Kahmann comes twice a week.

“It’s just good exercise. You are sort of limited in what you can do when you’ve got Parkinson’s,” Kahmann said after his workout. “I’m improving. I’m getting stronger. I feel it in my shoulders.”

Boxing has become increasingly popular for people with Parkinson’s Disease. A man named Scott C. Newman created a boxing program for Parkinson’s patients back in 2006.

According to the Rock Steady website, Newman began intense, one-on-one boxing training a few years after he was diagnosed with early-onset Parkinson’s at the age of 40. He witnessed a dramatic improvement in his quality of health, agility and daily functioning, the website says. He opened up a small gym and boxing ring. Since then, about 140 affiliate studios have opened worldwide.

Smith is not a Rock Steady affiliate. Smith said he doesn’t need any special certification to help someone with special needs train. He’s been boxing since 1974 and coaching since 1988.

“Other programs, they charge,” Smith said. “(My students) are so happy someone with as much experience with boxing as me is offering the program.

“They can come in 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. and train for free,” he added. “We will have somebody properly wrap their hands then teach just the basic fundamentals of boxing so they will not get hurt.”

Smith said he has high-dollar gloves that have a special shock foam gel to prevent hand injuries.

“Safety is always first” when working with children, seniors and adults with Parkinson’s, he said. “We also monitor their blood pressure and heart rate so they don’t over-exert themselves.”

Smith said he has dealt with his own serious injuries.

“I know what it’s like to feel like you are losing your mobility and independence,” he said, showing surgery scars on his leg and back. “Springfield was really good to me growing up. I’m just trying to give back.”

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Information from: Springfield News-Leader, https://www.news-leader.com

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