Athletes fight the progression of Parkinson's with boxing

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It may look like an ordinary gym, but the men and women at Rock Steady Boxing in Largo are doing more than getting fit; they're improving their lives. 

Every class begins with an introduction with each gym-goer announcing their boxing name. There's "Ray the Rock" and "The Boss", to name a few. And while their titles may be different, their reason for showing up is the same: slowing the progression of Parkinson's disease.

"I've seen some fighters that had wheelchairs and walkers when they first started and they don't need it anymore. It's tremendous," said Rock Steady boxer Jon Pawelkop.

Pawelkop has been coming to Rock Steady ever since he was diagnosed with the disease three years ago. He says the workouts are about much more than just punching a bag; the no-contact workout focuses on improving the skills people with Parkinson's suffer from most, like balance, speed and strength. 

"I have bad days too, but exercise and boxing has helped keep those days far and apart," Pawelkop explained. 

And on those not-so-good days, he gets the motivation he needs from his fellow fighters and coaches. 

"Parkinson's shouldn't be this death sentence where they get sent to a chair. They should be moving and active and living a really fulfilling life," said Rock Steady owner and coach Jordan Brannon. 

Pawelkop is living proof of Rock Steady's success, and he's not shy about it either. In fact, he travels the country sharing his story to others battling the disease. 

"I want to give them inspiration, not because I'm hero, but because I am one of them," he said. "I want to help them achieve what they want to achieve, so they can have a better life."

He just completed his mission of visiting Rock Steady gyms in all 50 states.

"Towards the end of my journey I didn't see states anymore. I saw people, fighters, coaches and all these people standing side by side with me fighting Parkinson's together," Pawelkop said.

It's a fight he is willing to take on fist first.