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Health science seniors help fight Parkinson’s in YMCA internship

Dec 22, 2020
Two women pose with boxing bags
Two women pose with boxing bags

KOKOMO, Ind. — Two health sciences students helped punch out Parkinson’s disease, as interns at the Kokomo Family YMCA.

Kristina MacLain and Abby Cox  assisted with Rock Steady Boxing during the fall semester, helping lead the classes. Rock Steady Boxing is a national not-for-profit with the goal of giving people with Parkinson’s disease hope, by improving their quality of life through a non-contact boxing based fitness curriculum.

MacLain said Parkinson’s is a brain disorder that affects the central nervous system, affecting movements and joints. She was surprised to learn that boxing, of all sports, can help alleviate the effects.

“Boxing is one of the hardest sports,” the Logansport resident said. “It gets all of their joints and muscles moving, and helps with coordination and balance. It also relieves stress, and gives them a time and place to be around people dealing with the same issues they are, who understand their struggles. They’re all excited to be there, and most hardly ever miss a class.”

Cox, from Kokomo, said she didn’t know much about Parkinson’s disease before her internship.

“I wanted to learn more about that, and to understand how a boxing program would benefit those with the disease,” she said. “I was able to see the benefits while implementing the program with direction from an experienced teacher. I learned how to coach them, and to be more motivating. Coaching is a skill I didn’t have that I have developed in this internship.”

Angela Coppola, assistant professor of health sciences, was thankful that despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the YMCA worked with IU Kokomo so students could have an in-person internship — wearing masks, and following sanitation and health guidelines.

“We had to learn how to make adjustments to how we normally do things, but it’s been  amazing to have a community partner like the YMCA work with our students to figure out how to navigate the situation,” she said. “I’m proud to see the outcome and the passion for this program unfold for my students. We’ve been able to do this during a pandemic, and it’s been rewarding for both the students and the YMCA’s clients. I’m proud of Kristina and Abby for persisting this term, serving and engaging in their community through this internship.”

With Cox graduating in December, and MacLain in May 2021, the internship gave them valuable experience working in health promotion.

“Overall, it boosted my confidence as I prepare to apply for jobs,” said Cox. “I didn’t have a lot of health promotion experience before. It really taught me how to coach, how to plan a program, and how to interact with people in that kind of setting.” She added that she was offered a job leading classes after graduating.

“It’s opened up a new door to me,” she said. “It’s showed me the benefits of health promotion, and how you can impact someone’s life.”

MacLain appreciated the chance to work outside the university, getting a taste of what her career might look like.

“Being part of an organization like the YMCA, it’s leading us in a direction where we’re thinking about what we can do with our degrees in health science,” she said. “We’re learning program planning, how to motivate people who have a disease like Parkinson’s, and how to be part of a wellness program.”

They worked with two classes per day on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, with leadership from the class instructor, who taught them how to use cues to motivate participants. MacLain enjoyed seeing participants make progress as they continued in the program.

“They start out shadowboxing, and then you put them on a bag and they’re punching as hard as they can,” she said. “You see the difference the program makes in a short amount of time. You can tell they are passionate about the class. You can tell it’s working out the stiffness in their joints. They all push themselves to the limit, and its rewarding to know you are part of helping improve their health and quality of life.”

Education is KEY at Indiana University Kokomo.

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