Brookdale has a boxing gym and its results may astound you

John Robertson has suffered from Parkinson’s for 30 years, but since he took up boxing, he’s seen great improvements.


Brookdale boxing
John Robertson (far right) says they don’t have a name for the new boxing gym he started at Brookdale, but he’s thinking of calling it “What’s Behind the Red Door?”(l-r:  Carol Lynn, Eleanor Murray, Bud Lauer) Photo by Jill Draper.

Brookdale resident starts boxing gym. The results will astound you.

By Jill Draper

With a slight tremor in his hand, John Robertson walks determinedly toward a black punching bag hanging from the basement ceiling at Brookdale Wornall Place senior living community. “I hate Parkinson’s!” he yells, jabbing left, right, and left again.

Robertson has suffered from the debilitating disease for 30 years, but since he took up boxing, he’s seen great improvements in speech, strength and agility.

“I should have done it sooner, because it’s really made a difference,” he says. For example, he no longer relies on his wife to button his shirts or call the staff for assistance when he falls. “I fell down two weeks ago and I just popped right back up by myself.”

He learned about the impact boxing can have on health, especially for seniors, at a private gym he attends several times a week, and that sent him on a mission to bring the opportunity to other residents in the Brookdale community at 501 W. 107th St. First he scoped out a spot for a small gym—an old woodworking shop no longer in use. Then he gathered research, planned a presentation and scheduled a meeting with Leigh Ann Meiss, the community’s executive director.

“I thought it would be hard to get the money for this, but when I said I’d like to put in a boxing gym, she jumped up from her chair and said, ‘Great! Let’s do it,’” he recalls.

A few months later the gym opened. Assorted boxing gloves hang from hooks, the floor is covered with springy rubber panels, and a heavy punching bag and an air-filled speed bag hang from the ceiling. Wall decorations include an inspirational poster of champion boxer Muhammed Ali and a photo of resident Bud Lauer at age 12. In the picture, both he and his younger brother are facing off with boxing gloves as if they’re about to fight. Kids did more rough and tumble activities like that back in the day, Lauer says.

At the Brookdale gym, however, there are no people hitting each other—only the punching bags.

He and Robertson serve as coaches for residents they’ve convinced to join in the exercise. They advise beginners to go easy and rest between punches. But Cindy Scott, who uses a wheelchair, was not that cautious.

“I brought her down here and she sat and pounded the bag for 30 minutes. She has MS and fights it really hard—she has a great attitude,” Robertson says. He and Lauer also have introduced boxing to Bill Vandenberg, who turns 100 in September, and 95-year-old Helen Mahurin, who walked into the gym with her cane, donned a pair of pink 16-oz. gloves, made some punches and signed up for more sessions. Eleanor Murray describes her boxing experience as invigorating and helpful for improving balance, while Carol Lynn says it’s increased her stamina.

Such comments are what Robertson likes to hear. “It’s a big relief when you take that first hit and all your problems and tensions flow out,” he says. “This has been so good for me, I want it to be good for everyone.”

He and the Wornall Place staff are talking to other Brookdale facilities in the area to encourage them to add boxing gyms, and he’s got even bigger plans. There are Brookdale communities in 46 states and senior living communities everywhere. “We’re starting with our own group,” he says, “but we want to take it to the world.”

Fighting words, those. The words of a champion.


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