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Fight of her Life: Woman battles Parkinson's one punch at a time

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(WVUE) -

Practicing the sweet science is not an every day past time, especially for a grandmother who didn't pick up sport until she was 70 years young.

"I thought my hook - I like my hook coming in high," said Sissy Roniger.

Sissy's hook is her hallmark swing, but her repertoire will only get better with time.

"It's called shadow boxing. It makes a big difference when you practice and you see yourself," said Sissy.

The sport is great exercise, but this isn't just about working out - not even close. She's throwing these punches in the fight of her life. Sissy is one of nearly a million Americans diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, a disorder that affects movement. It develops gradually, sometimes starting with a barely noticeable tremor in just one hand. That's why we find Sissy throwing punches non-stop.

"Oh I do look forward to it. It's made a difference in my sick disease," she said.

She's in a program called Rock Steady Boxing. These non-contact classes help lessen the symptoms of the debilitating disease. Stretching lessens stiffness, footwork helps with balance, punching steadies their tremors, shouting combats "soft voice syndrome," and sparring helps with coordination.

"Mentally I feel lighter, feel freer. My moods aren't as intense. If I can say I even have them anymore - it's hard to tell," she said.

Rock Steady Boxing is a family affair with Sissy. Her husband and brother teach all the classes she attends, and Sissy is one of their best pupils. 

"That's typical of Sissy, just to become a fighter. She took this to heart. Nobody works harder than Sissy," said Sissy's husband, Greg. "When she leaves here, and it's for all the people, it gives them a feeling of empowerment that they're more in control of what they're doing. Sissy intensely works at this, never misses a class."

Sissy considers herself one of the lucky ones fighting the disease. When she first received the diagnosis, negative thoughts nearly overwhelmed her. 

"I went in there all upset because I thought I was going to be in a wheelchair. I really thought that. I didn't want my grandkids to see me in a wheelchair, all that kind of stuff. You just go nuts thinking those things. After two years she said that I had Parkinson's of course, but I had a very slow developing case of it. Praise God, it's a miracle in itself right there," Sissy said.

It's been five years since Sissy received the Parkinson's diagnosis. Right now there's no cure for the disease. It'll be in her system forever, but she won't let it rule her life.

"It did in the beginning, I'll tell you that. Because it was my only thought. Like I said, someone told me, 'Don't let it control you, you control it, and it's not who you are.' I don't have to be pulled down, I don't have to be withdrawn," Sissy said.

The class feeds off of Sissy's optimism. They're a group of 11 that doesn't know what the word quit means.

"We push them. What we always tell them when they join, 'Look, we're going to try and kill you. Don't let us,'" said Sissy's brother, Tom Douglass. "They got something to work for, they're fighting back. They're not sitting there waiting for something to happen, they're fighting back, they got control of something." 

It's the battle of a lifetime that none of these brawlers plan to lose.

"You really learn an awful lot, and it touches everything about you. It really does, but there's a new hope. There's a definite new hope," Sissy said.

To find a class near you, click here or call (888) 217-0577.

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