Making movement matter

March 2019

It was one of the coldest January mornings at -32C but that didn’t stop the Rock Steady Boxing participants from making their way to the gym. The dedicated crew joked and kibitzed with each other as they took off the layers of winter gear to get ready for their workout at the SweatClub Fitness Studio. Under the direction of their coach, Jacquie Kennedy, or as they call her, “The Punisher,” the group took their places at the warm-up stations and the workout was on.

With classic tunes like “Teenage Wasteland” and “More Than A Feeling” rocking out in the background, the participants rotated through the warm-up stations consisting of kettlebells, ropes and burpees. It’s not an easy workout, but the group keeps going, yelling out encouragement to each other as they make their way around the gym. When the buzzer sounds, it’s off to the next station, with 15-second breaks in between.

After the warm up that had me sweating on the sidelines, the participants began wrapping hands and lacing their gloves for the main event. The boxing bags put up a good fight but the Rock Steady participants are the true Rocky’s of the Ring. They swung, jabbed, bobbed and connected with intensity and purpose. They all were going the distance.

All the attendees in the Rock Steady Thunder Bay program either live with Parkinson’s disease or are a partner of someone living with Parkinson’s. Rock Steady Boxing is a licensed program designed for people living with Parkinson’s, founded in 2006 in Indianapolis, Indiana. Started by a man who was diagnosed with early onset Parkinson’s at age 40, the founder discovered improvements in his physical health, agility and daily functioning thanks to a routine of intense and high-energy workouts, including boxing. The program has grown to over 741 sites globally. Parkinson’s is a complex disease that impacts every person living with it differently. Frequently, balance can be affected.

But it was when a friend was diagnosed with Parkinson’s, that boxer, personal trainer, Certified Body Building Specialist, and gym owner, Jacquie Kennedy, found out about the program. “When my friend Jackie Carroll was diagnosed with Parkinson’s, I started receiving lots of media links of people with Parkinson’s boxing. It was amazing to see how boxing could make a positive impact.

I knew I wanted to help my friend, Jackie, so I went to Indianapolis for the Rock Steady Boxing instructor training and certification.” And now, 2 years later, with her friend Jackie Carroll at her side, she is offering the Rock Steady program three mornings a week. “We now have a group of about 9 participants and we’ve had good response from the medical community.” In order to participate in the program, people are assessed to be in the PD1 or PD2 level of their disease. There are still a few spots available, but Jacquie would like to have another trainer so that more people living with Parkinson’s could participate. This specialized program is kept small, so folks can get lots of attention and assistance if needed. Before Jacquie could offer the program she had to install a special type of flooring because participants may fall. Because falling is something that many people living with Parkinson’s fear, Jacquie teaches the proper way to fall in the classes, “because it’s important to know how to fall and how to get up.” Members of Jacquie’s gym helped to raise funds for the special, padded floor with a paint night fundraiser.

Jacquie says that fitness is integral in her life. “I have to work out,” she says.

“I used to weigh over 200 pounds and I lived with continual back issues, but I have experienced first-hand how being able to work out can change a person.” And Jacquie isn’t just referring to the physical changes that come from a fitness routine. She has seen inner transformations in her students, including the Rock Steady team. “That group meets 3 times a week, for one hour each session and I’ve seen so many changes. There are friendships and support that has blossomed. People walk taller. One man now refers to himself as a boxer and before his diagnosis, he never would have thought that’s what he’d be doing – and loving.”

As a former desk worker, Jacquie had become a boxing instructor eight years ago, training with Rory Slater and then world-sanctioned boxer, Cathy Williams. “I left my job and decided to go with my passion. Boxing was huge for me. I really felt I could make a difference for people.” Starting as a personal trainer, she finally decided to rent a gym and go it on her own.

With a family of three sons and a husband who participate in the business with support and encouragement, Jacquie has a variety of interests besides the gym. She enjoys decorating and has been doing more public speaking engagements recently. Her talks about turning childhood struggles into strengths and about taking the leap to launch your own business help her spread her message of positivity in action. She believes that “Happiness is Huge” in life and also tells people that if you have a fire within to make something happen, you will be successful.

Her business is special to her. “I feel you have a huge responsibility to help out when you own a business in this city and I love doing it.” Jacquie rounds up members from her gym to support Thunder Bay Shelter House on a regular basis. Not only does she lead the Rock Steady program for people living with Parkinson’s, she also has some gym clients who live with multiple sclerosis. She does an MS fundraiser every year in honour of Marc Larocque,a local man living with the disease. Jacquie is inspired by Marc’s fight and he’s the reason why MS fundraising is important to her. At this year’s 12-hour Boxing Relay in support of the MS Society, scheduled for April 28th, she hopes that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau might also lace up the gloves. “My brother used to be a personal photographer for the Pierre Elliot Trudeau family, so he has photos of Justin as a boy. We’ve been doing this fundraiser for four years now and Prime Minister Trudeau has been involved by sending a letter one year and a video the next year. This year he’d better come!” Might the Prime Minister trade political jabs for real ones this spring in Thunder Bay? With Jacquie’s determination and ability to make good things happen, he just might add a local boxing ring to his spring itinerary. In the meantime, the members of the Rock Steady Boxing program can fight on, knowing that Jacquie is in their corner.

Nancy Angus is a freelance writer and regular contributor to Bayview. Contact her at

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