NEW BERN, N.C. — Parkinson's disease is the fastest growing neurological disorder, according to a study.

Ten million people worldwide are living with the disease. According to a 2018 study, that number is expected to grow by a couple million over the next 20 years.

What You Need To Know

  • The number of people with Parkinson's disease is growing faster than ever before

  • Physical activity like boxing helps patients fight off symptoms

  • Bethany Richards leads boxing classes at Rock Steady Boxing to help Parkinson's patients like her dad

  • Rock Steady Boxing is an internationally recognized program with locations all over North Carolina

New Bern local Bethany Richards is fighting for a cure. One of her favorite activities is boxing with her dad.

Bethany Richards boxing with her dad, Michael Richards.

“Intense exercise is what's really beneficial to combating the symptoms of Parkinson's," Richards said. 

Michael Richards was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease 12 years ago.

In response, his daughter strapped a donation box on the back of her bike. The Bike Box project soon turned into a nonprofit as Bethany Richards began to travel across the United States collecting donations for Parkinson's research.

Photo credit: Bethany Richards. Bethany Richards started the Bike Box Project to raise money for Parkinson's research

“It just goes to show that any idea, as weird as it might be, could be the best idea and could really make a difference in your community,” Bethany Richards said.

When she found out about Rock Steady Boxing two years ago, the retired firefighter started a new career helping the community fight back against Parkinson's.

Parkinson's disease affects the nervous system and progressively makes it harder for patients to move. However, exercise slows those symptoms down. Boxing helps with coordination, flexibility, strength and voice projection.

Coach Staci Hulse tries to explain the importance of every move and how it relates to the real world.

“Their strength is amazing,” Hulse said. “They're very motivating.... I can't believe all the things that they can do. They had to learn that they can do it. They had to try. And we had to be encouraging and not force them, but tell them that they can, and they do. And they amaze themselves every day, and they amaze me everyday.”

Parkinson's patients who box at Rock Steady Boxing in New Bern.

While Rock Steady Boxing is an internationally recognized program, Richards started the first one in Craven County.

Her dad and the rest of the class say it helps them physically and cognitively.

“It keeps me hoping,” Michael Richards said. “I can keep going. Gives me a lot of stiffness. Good for stability. I do have bumps and bruises now an then but it's still good. I'm out here, and I'm still smiling.”

It's great progress, but the fight isn't over.

“As much as rock steady boxing can fend the symptoms off, it doesn't cure the disease,” Bethany Richards said. “The disease is always still gonna be there.”

With that fact in mind, Richards is more thankful than ever that she gets to spend almost every day in the gym with her dad.

“I'm just honored to be able to be beside him as he fights back,” Bethany Richards said. “And it's really scary to think about years to come, what might be down the road, but I'm gonna embrace where we're at right now with having the time together and watching his courage and his strength.”

There are over 800 Rock Steady Boxing locations around the world. North Carolina has many locations across the state, including in Raleigh, Durham, Greensboro, Charlotte, Asheville and Wilmington.

A boxing glove at Rock Steady Boxing.