Rock Steady Boxing (RSB) is thriving nationwide. Except in Tampa.
This proven, highly effective exercise program for People With Parkinson’s (Parkies, in my vernacular) is short of enrollees in Tampa. The monthly average is 10. The same class in nearby St. Petersburg (Pinellas County, to be exact) averages 34 boxers.
Program director Jordan Brannon can’t explain the difference. “Same metro area. Same people. I am puzzled.”
She told Tampa boxers their program will end December 31 unless 20 steadfast participants are aboard. That’s her breakeven financial number. She is redoubling her recruitment efforts in Tampa.
I am in the Tampa program. See below for the letter I wrote Oct. 18 to University of South Florida Health (Neurology). USF Neurology responded Oct. 24 (below).
The Rock Steady difficulties are the second setback for PD patient-care initiatives in Tampa Bay.
USF Health (Neurology) was chosen as one of nine national 2016-17 test sites for the PD SELF information-and-action training program for Parkies. Seven of the nine sites were renewed for 2017-18. Tampa was not. (I was a “co-facilitator” of the Tampa program for part of its run.)
Diane Cook, PD SELF program director, has written that results of the 2016-17 rollout “were very positive and showed significant improvement in self-efficacy leading to improved anxiety, depression, stress and perceived support.”
University of South Florida Parkinson’s Disease and Movement Disorders Center is a Parkinson’s Foundation National Center of Excellence.
My letter to Dr. Clifton Gooch, Neurology Director at USF Health follows:
Dear Dr. Gooch,
I write representing the urgent concerns of the 10 regular adherents of Rock Steady Boxing/Tampa.
We need the help of your physicians and staff to ensure the future of the Tampa RSB program. Program Director Jordan Brannon (a USF grad) told us Monday that the program is financially not viable. Unless there are 20 active participants by year’s end, the program will close.
Brannon said she will redouble her recruitment efforts.
Evidence is overwhelming and unassailable of RSB’s restorative power for PWP. RSB is expanding rapidly nationwide and worldwide. We will be an outlier should we lose the Tampa program.
USF Neurology, through the Parkinson’s Foundation (Miami office), has financially supported Brannon in creating and expanding her Largo and Tampa RSB programs.
We request USF neurologists redouble their efforts to bring RSB to patients’ attention. A physician’s push is vital in motivating PWP to commit to a rigorous and regular exercise program.
The Byrd Center is justly proud of its sponsorship of the growing Jewish Community Center programing for PWP.
We in RSB/Tampa request equal footing.
Gil Thelen (on behalf of RSB/Tampa adherents)
Dr. Gooch replied Oct. 24 as follows:
In reporting “Counter Punch” I uncovered nuggets of invaluable information about managing my PD. The book, by the way, is in my body shop for rewrite. Basic information is the same. It demands more personalized storytelling.
In Fall 2016 my PD dealt me a wicked blow. My autonomic (involuntary) nervous system collapsed. Drinking water constantly (polydipsia), peeing incessantly (polyuria), hot flashes, spacial disorientation, equilibrium and balance kaput, further loss of touch and feel in hands. A nightmare.
It took nine months of hard work to recover. Personal trainer Jordan Brannon and Physical Therapist (Mad) Matt Lazinski pulled me through. By September 2017 I was better than new.
In the midst of my ANS horrors, I sold my precious Taylor Made golf clubs. I had wrongly assumed I would never recover my lost equilibrium and balance.
I can again swing a club without falling over. Fortunately I have an earlier set I can use for fiddling around on a three-hole course at our new home in Macon GA.
My reading had not prepared me for this sharp, upward turn of events. After all, what about that chart of symptom severity that strongly suggested the disease course would be lockstep down?
Dr. Jim Davison, my Tampa medical Sherpa And drinking buddy set me straight over a beer-or-three.
“A chronic disease of almost any kind never moves in a straight line,” he counseled. “There are inevitable peaks and valleys. You crashed in 2016. You more than fully recovered in 2017. Expect those variations to continue.”
Aargh! Flash of light! Mystery explained!
Same thing happened to my Parkie Buddy Jerry Iwerks. Through a diligent exercise program he moved from so-called Stage 3 Symptoms to Stage 1.
Remember these wise words:
“When people describe Parkinson’s disease, they often define it as a disease that is incurable and without treatment to slow its progression,” says Dr. Peter Schmidt, chief research and clinical officer of the Parkinson’s Foundation. “You can change how Parkinson’s affects you, but it takes hard work and dedication.”
It’s a 5,000 square-foot storefront hard by railroad tracks in a challenged part of North Tampa. Busch Gardens is two miles east along Busch Boulevard. I-275 is a short mile west.
A Cigar Store Indian silently greets you at the front door. You walk in to the rich aroma of cigars.
The staff is welcoming and endlessly accommodating. Coffee perhaps? A cigar recommendation within your budget? Guidance on accessories from humidors, travel cases to butane lighters and cigar cutters?
The semi-circular bar faces two 45-inch TVs, always on to sports or news. An oddly misspelled cigar maker’s yellow electric sign beckons. “Oliva Serie (cq) V bar.”
The bar comfortably seats nine. The Humidor’s gracious baristas are busy behind the counter, offering soft drinks, coffee, water, beer and wine—but no liquor.
The feel is comfortable and welcoming. Quiet readers occupy the 18 stuffed leather chairs and sofa.
The rectangular, 4×10 foot work table seats 8 laptop computer users. They work mostly quietly, sometimes not. (That’s chatty me, sometimes.)
One of the six roundtables, with high chairs, is often the “Cribbage Place.” Cribbage is the Humidor’s signature card game, sometimes raucous, always spirited.
The Humidor opens at 9:30 AM for the coffee regulars (that’s you Golf and Cigar Connoisseur Robert) having their initial cigar of the day.
Activity grows around noon. Lunch breakers enjoy a “stick” after their sandwich, (Pre-made Cubans are always available from the back fridge.)
Cribbage players are a backbone of the afternoon crowd. The evening gang is quite different, many of them young professionals.
The Humidor is a male hangout in tone and culture during the day. The occasional female visitor can expect full attention, respectfully. Pepsi Ron, often there, with wife Lorraine says, couples are comfortable because regulars sanitize profane language to fit the mixed-gender setting.
The never-ending parade of buyers, some staying, some not, run the gamut from blue collar to white, and everything in between. Think firefighters, chefs, nurses, day traders, painting-and-roofing contractors, moving-company honchos. The lawyers and doctors buy, but rarely stay. There is even a retired protestant bishop, who’s a Parkie like me.
Cigar smoking is backdrop to the Humidor’s main but mostly unspoken purpose. It’s a “Cheers Bar” place.
Regulars who still have hair, let it down. The conversation mix at the bar is mostly personal: estrangements, divorces, children, retirement, news of the weird, Bucs doings, the Rays playoff chances.
Politics talk is muted, especially since the divisive election of 2016. The very racially diverse regulars steer away from conversational flash points. Respect is a Humidor shared value.
Humidor camaraderie is medicine for the soul, and sometimes even more.
“I can no longer afford my anti-depressant medication,” says Mikey, the Humidor’s unofficial social chairman. “I treat my depression by being here.”
A Mikey specialty is baseball outings—beer, food, cigars at George Steinbrenner Field.
Conversation is easy. “You never meet a stranger here,” says deputy sheriff Robert.
“We’re family,” says Grandpa Ron.
The Humidor family has tended to me since my Parkinson’s diagnosis in 2014. Dropped pills. Man bag left atop my SUV. Misplaced lighters. They police my forgetfulness and inattention.
That’s you Mike and Mikey, Brian, Shel, Dennis, Harry, Pepsi Ron, Chuck, Coach, Dave and Dave, Todd, Steve, “Bish,” Reggie, Curtis and so many more.
I wrote this to the guys on the occasion of my departure from Tampa to Macon in November.
“You have been there for me, ups and downs, lost gear, withdrawn, exuberant.
“Please select a special cigar as a small measure of my gratitudefor your compassion and fellowship over years together at the Humidor Clubhouse for boys (mostly) of all ages.
“Present this card at the cash register as payment in full.
“With deepest regard,
I love Tampa Humidor and all it represents
For me, the Humidor is a place to write, read, quip. It’s a second home filled with delightful friends.
As my PD has ebbed and flowed, my mates have recovered things I dropped (most famously my wedding ring into a stuffed chair), helped me recover rolling pills and see it to that I leave nothing behind.
As we prepare to leave for our new home in Macon, GA, I know there will never be another Tampa Humidor in my future.
I love it for what it stands for and the many friends who make it so very special.