This year’s Kalona Days run will be fun... and help those with Parkinson’s Disease

By TJ Rhodes
Posted 6/12/24


Kalona Days is a vibrant two-day summer celebration in the heart of Kalona, featuring live music, food, contests, games and more. Kalona Days starts on Friday, June 21 and concludes …

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This year’s Kalona Days run will be fun... and help those with Parkinson’s Disease



Kalona Days is a vibrant two-day summer celebration in the heart of Kalona, featuring live music, food, contests, games and more. Kalona Days starts on Friday, June 21 and concludes Saturday, June 22.

This year’s annual Kalona Days’ Fun Run/Walk – held Saturday morning – holds deeper meaning, as half of registration fees will be donated to the Parkinson’s Foundation.

The Parkinson’s Foundation strives to make the lives of those with Parkinson’s Disease – PD – better, by improving care and advancing research in hopes of finding a cure.

This means participating in the Kalona Days Fun Run will not only help the Parkinson’s Foundation; it will help many local residents who live with PD.


PD in the community

Parkinson’s Disease is a common neurological disease affecting many close to home.

Early signs of PD can present as shaky hands. As PD progresses, it can cause stiffness, loss of balance, movement issues, mild to severe tremors throughout the body, while also leading to other neurological conditions such as dementia.

Medicine and exercise can help alleviate symptoms of PD but cannot cure it.

This is where the community effort comes into effect.

Every Monday and Thursday, folks with PD far and wide make the trek to the Washington YMCA for their “Rock Steady Boxing” class – a free class provided by the YMCA for those with PD – led by Angie Boyse, the Wellness Coordinator/Fitness Manager of the Kalona and Wellman YMCAs.

Boyse’s Rock Steady Boxing class has helped establish a safe space for those with PD by surrounding them with their peers to make new friends, have fun, and most importantly, fight back.

The class starts with a group stretch. Then, participants walk a few laps within the YMCA, doing various small exercises along the way like push-ups against a guard rail and projecting their voice, before being split into two groups.

One group stays with Boyse, strapping their boxing gloves on. The other group stays with Kyla Wilkening – the Director of Health and Wellness at the Washington YMCA – and other volunteers, playing games.

Boyse leads the boxing portion with energy, playing loud music and singing along while shouting words of motivation/encouragement, pushing attendees with a sense of tenderness, and helping whenever the need arises.

Many attendees praise Boyse’s approach.

“We are not deciding who’s doing the better job, you just do your best. As your disease progresses, if you lose abilities, no one’s judging you about that,” Karen Clifton, a Rock Steady Boxing participant, said.  “Angie just really encourages that, but she’s not easy on us. She treats us like everybody else.”

“You just want to be treated like everybody else instead of treated like someone with Parkinson’s. I’m not Parkinson’s; I have Parkinson’s, but I am a person beyond that,” Clifton added.

As the boxers move through Boyse’s regimen, they wear out, as each punching bag presents a different challenge, working different muscles potentially stiffened by PD.

The other group moves in a circle to play various games, all designed to help those with PD. The group precisely drops pieces into a large connect-four board game; utilizes motor skills by whacking a ballon to keep it afloat; works on hand-eye coordination with a ring toss and ball toss game; stretches with a modified twister game; and more.

switch, allowing everyone to experience all that is offered.

Eventually, the group comes back together to relax, stretching one more time before being dismissed.

This is where their sense of community truly shines. The classmates tell jokes and stories, tease each other, and generally have a good time. Some even stick together once the class ends to chat some more. 

Boyse, the lead teacher, is passionate about PD in part because her mother had it. She is also passionate about wellness, meaning her Rock Steady Boxing class checks two boxes.

“It’s a little more personal for me, knowing what my mom went through,” Boyse said. “It was important to bring this [program] to this Y and use some of my passion [in] both realms: [a passion] for wellness [and] my passion for people with Parkinson’s. It’s pretty special.”

Boyse believes those with PD can benefit greatly from programs like this. Those in her class could not agree more.

Richard Hernandez, one of the Rock Stead Boxing participants, said, “It’s been fun. We like being together with some great people.”

His wife, Pamela, who does not have PD, said, “I think for all of them, it’s a great group where they have this horrible disease that you can’t cure, but they all work really hard, and I think they encourage each other.”

Kelly Noble, one of the groups newest members, said, “I needed a group. It’s easier to do it with a group than it is to stay by yourself. So, that’s what I did. I don’t regret [joining], I love it. I don’t put anything else in front of it, because it’s very important [and] helpful.”

Finally, Julie Gentz, an Aware in Care Ambassador for the Parkinson’s Foundation and one of the voices who helped start the Rock Steady Boxing program in Washington, said, “[This is] kind of my way to do something good with an awful situation. I can’t save anybody, but I sure can help them.”

Gentz, like most others in the group, had a very close loved one who passed away from PD. Now, she spends time helping said community, trying to make a difference.