Norm Dreyer is Rock Steady

Fighting Parkinson’s with Exercise

For Norm Dreyer, the word quit is not in his vocabulary. An avid motorcyclist and outdoorsman, as well as owner and operator of First Choice Home Health in Bozeman, Norm wasn’t about to let something like Parkinson’s Disease get in the way of his busy life. Diagnosed on his 60th birthday, he admits he had symptoms for a few years prior but had pretty much ignored them. “But once you get an actual diagnosis, you start researching everything you can to find out about what you are facing,” he said. “And the number one thing I found that all neurologists agree on, is the best treatment for Parkinson’s is exercise, exercise, exercise!”

Armed with this information, Dreyer, himself an occupational therapist, began to look into what the best exercise regime would be for himself. And that is how he first heard of Rock Steady Boxing, a nonprofit organization designed to give people with Parkinson’s disease hope, by improving their quality of life through a non-contact boxing-based fitness curriculum.

“Parkinson’s disease is a degenerative movement disorder that causes a deterioration of motor skills, balance, and speech,” Norm explained. “Studies in the 80s and 90s have shown us that the specific movements in boxing help with all those things as well as core strength, rhythm, posture, and gait.” Not only that but “it’s very satisfying to hit a bag” he said with a laugh. “It’s like, take THAT, Parkinson’s!”

Rock Steady is the only program of its kind and was founded in 2006 through the friendship of two men, Scott Newman and Vince Perez. Newman, a former prosecutor in Marion County Indiana, was diagnosed at the early age of 40, and Perez “refused to let his friend go without a fight.” He turned to his experience as a Golden Glove boxer and came up with a program that attacks Parkinson’s at all its vulnerable neurological points. 

“I was really impressed by everything I read on it, so I took the trip to Indianapolis to receive training as an instructor and coach,” Norm said. He says he was the only one out of 50 trainees who had the disease. “Most of them were fitness trainers or physical therapists or gym owners,” he explained. Armed with all new tools, Norm came back to Bozeman and started up the Rock Steady Boxing Yellowstone Bozeman chapter. Classes are currently held at the Prime Performance and Physio Gym on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 2 pm to 3:30 at 253 Village Center Lane in Four Corners.  Zoom classes are also available.

As for Norm, six years after his diagnosis and he still hasn’t let Parkinson’s slow him down any. Recently, he opted to undergo a procedure known as DBS (Deep Brain Stimulation) at the Mayo Clinic. DBS involves inserting electrodes into targeted areas of the brain using an MRI and recording all brain cell activity during the procedure. Not everyone with the disease can qualify and there were months of tests before Norm received the good news that he was considered a prime candidate. He was awake during the 5-hour long procedure and remembers the minute the doctor told him, “That’s it right there! Look at your hand now!” And for the first time in years, there was no tremor. 

Norm is quick though to let people know this is not a cure, it just helps slow down and contain the symptoms. He encourages anyone with Parkinson’s disease to check out Rock Steady and see just what a difference it can make.“It’s only for people with the disease and so there is really a sense of camaraderie,” Norm said. “It’s like a support group and a workout all rolled up in one!”

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