Rock Steady: A Corner of Hope in Sheri Carter’s Fight Against Parkinson’s Disease

by Brent Johnston 

“The greatest need in our world today is the need for hope.” 
Billy Graham

Sheri Carter, former public school teacher and Parkinson’s disease patient, straps on her pink boxing gloves. “Good job!” her boxing trainer exclaims as Sheri punches the trainer’s focus mitts with skill and precision. Sheri smiles to herself as she hits the mitts hard and fast, knowing that just months before she was hurting so much physically she could not even go to the grocery store.

Ms. Carter was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease (PD) in 2014. Parkinson’s disease is a progressive degenerative disorder of the central nervous system resulting from nerve cell damage in the brain. When these brain cells are lost, dopamine levels in the body drop, which adversely impacts body movement. Parkinson’s destroys memory and other mental functions and can affect a person’s ability to perform simple, daily activities. This chronic disease results in loss of motor skills and can cause tremors, stiffness of muscles and lack of body movement. It is estimated that 1 million Americans suffer from Parkinson’s. The cause is unknown.

“If I focus on my symptoms, they can easily back me into a corner of fear and doubt. I choose instead to look to the resources in my corner – the corner I call Hope – where I find support, renewal and strength,” Sheri states. It was a friend of Ms. Carter’s who read about the Rock Steady Boxing program and who encouraged Sheri to take up boxing. Rock Steady Boxing (RSB) was developed in 2006 in the Indianapolis area as a rigorous strength and training program designed to specifically combat twenty-two Parkinson’s disease symptoms.

After researching and learning of the quantifiable results that Rock Steady Boxing produced in Parkinson’s disease participants who underwent their training, Sheri was convinced that she needed to become involved in the Rock Steady Boxing exercise program on a personal basis. The only challenge was that there was not a Rock Steady training facility or trainer in the Metro Jackson area.

“I started training with a boxing trainer locally who was a former Marine, and I loved it. It was fun, and I could see an improvement,” says Sheri. After contacting numerous gyms and fitness centers in the Jackson area about starting Rock Steady, Sheri hit a dead end. So, she did what all Christians should do when they need an answer…Sheri prayed with her husband Curtis and her friends that God would raise up someone locally who would see the need for the Rock Steady Boxing program to help Parkinson’s disease patients. In July 2017, Sheri and her son Michael flew to Indianapolis to be trained at the headquarters of the Rock Steady Boxing program where they learned the RSB exercises and became certified trainers.

 

As she flew back home, Sheri was even more convinced that Mississippi needed its own Rock Steady training center. She had worked with personal trainers and physical therapists, and Sheri knew that physical exercise had helped her PD. Sheri again approached gyms, health facilities and even entrepreneurs about forming a Rock Steady affiliate in our area, but all the doors were closed. What Sheri did not know was that cardio and fitness instructor Yonnie Waller and others who teach fitness at the CLC were simultaneously praying that the Lord would guide them to a new exercise program,which would help their members.

In January 2018, Ms. Carter contacted Dr. Randy Voyles, a General Surgery specialist in the Jackson area. Sheri met Dr. Voyles at a Parkinson’s class they both attended at Millsaps. She soon learned that Dr. Voyles was a member of Rock Steady Boxing in Atlanta where he often travels. “I gave Dr. Voyles the Rock Steady materials. He then met with Dr. Lee Cope who inspired us to move forward. We met with Bruce Warf, Family Pastor, who agreed to provide the Christian Life Center (CLC) facility for the Rock Steady Boxing program!” Sheri and Yonnie’s prayers were answered.

Rock Steady Boxing was founded in March of this year at the First Baptist Jackson CLC, and five more participants were sent to Indianapolis from Jackson for their program certification training. While in Indianapolis, the Jackson Rock Steady team purchased and obtained their official Rock Steady Boxing affiliation as the first of its kind in Central Mississippi. Funding for equipment and training was provided through the Gertrude Ford Foundation (directed by Mrs. Gayle Papa). The class now meets every Tuesday and Thursday at 10:00 am at the CLC, and has twelve people attending, four full-time coaches and several volunteers.  The Rock Steady Boxing Leadership team consists of certified coaches Jaime Douglas (Head Coach), Yonnie Waller, Paul Adcock and Mike Brister along with certified participants Dr. Randy Voyles, Dr. Lee Cope and Sheri Carter. The growth of RSB has occurred strictly by word-of-mouth; however, Sheri and her Rock Steady Boxing group are soon planning to get the word out through the media.

Sheri says, “I am more optimistic about my quality of life. I am excited to go to the gym. When I was in my twenties I played softball, but I’ve never been what I consider to be an athletic person though I would ride bikes and walk. Now, I look forward to Tuesdays and Thursdays and know that I am going to my rigorous exercise program that is going to make me feel better for days to come”.

As a result of Sheri’s participation in the Rock Steady Boxing program, her Parkinson’s disease symptoms have decreased. She has improved stamina, sleeps better and has increased confidence physically. There is a camaraderie among Rock Steady participants a sense of community that has fostered new friendships for Sheri as these PD patients improve their balance, body movement and range of motion. In the Rock Steady class at the CLC, the members also read Scripture and have a time of prayer and sharing of prayer requests. A resounding common thread is that the Rock Steady program participants always leave with a smile.

Sheri’s husband Curtis has served on staff since 1997 at Meadow Grove Baptist Church in Brandon where he is Minister of Music and Senior Adults. Curtis says, “I had hoped that people would benefit physically and also spiritually in knowing that God is our strongest resource and that we can completely trust Him. The fact that the Rock Steady Boxing at First Baptist Jackson encompasses both of these aspects gives it a special edge to help the unique needs of those with PD.” Curtis is a big proponent of Rock Steady because he has seen the positive results of the program in Sheri’s life.

Ms.Carter clearly communicates that her most powerful resource is the One who created her. She quotes Dr. Billy Graham, who dealt with Parkinson’s disease for over twenty years. “Faith points us beyond our problems to the hope we have in Christ.”

Sheri wants to instill hope in Parkinson’s disease patients and help them remember that God still loves them and has a plan for their lives. With God’s grace and mercy there are resources, such as medical advice and exercise, that can help improve quality of life. Sheri Carter has found God’s grace and mercy by surrounding herself with her husband, friends and family who love and support her. She is grateful for the Rock Steady Boxing program at First Baptist Jackson and can be seen at the CLC every Tuesday and Thursday morning hitting speed bags and focus mitts with her bright pink boxing gloves!

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, 
“plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
 Jeremiah 29:11

Leadership Team – Rock Steady Boxing Metro-Jackson

Dr.Lee Cope (Co-Leader and Organizer)
Dr.Randy Voyles (Co-Leader and Organizer)
RSB certified coaches: Jaime Douglas (Head Coach), Yonnie Waller, Paul Adcock, Mike Brister
RSB certified PD participants: Dr. Randy Voyles, Dr. Lee Cope, Sheri Carter

Standard Rocky Steady Boxing Class

Introduce weekly theme (balance, range of motion, etc.)
Warm up/stretch
Group activity
Box
Cool down/stretch
Scripture/prayer/cheer

For more information on Rock Steady Boxing, contact Jaime Douglas at jdouglas@fbcj.org