Boxing gym opened in January

Talk is cheap.

Flourishing communities feature residents whose actions speak louder than their words. In Monroe City, one such individual is Mike Crager.

Crager is the manager/coach of Rock Steady Boxing Monroe City (RSBMC), which officially opened Jan. 3 on the city's east end, two doors down from C & R Supermarket.

While Crager calls it a “boxing gym,” it is not filled with young men and women who aspire to carve out a lucrative career for themselves in the ring, but with individuals whose “fight” is with Parkinson's Disease (PD).

PD is a slowly progressive, neurodegenerative disorder that occurs when certain nerve cells in the brain called neurons die or become impaired. The disease can then manifest itself in an assortment of ways.

“People with Parkinson's Disease are in a unique situation, because Parkinson's effects each person differently,” said Crager. “Parkinson's Disease is stereotyped as shaky hands, like Muhammad Ali, or the twisting, contorting body of Michael J. Fox. Parkinson's Disease covers a large spectrum of symptoms, including a shuffling gate, unemotional facial features, a soft or low voice, stuttering, rigid body, slow movements ... the list goes on.”

RSBMC, which is open from 5 p.m. to 6:15 p.m. Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays, has attracted a loyal group of participants that ranges in number from between seven and 14. Those “fighters,” who pay a around $20 fee per month, are not just residents of Monroe City, but also come from Hannibal, Palmyra and Shelbina.

“They are very dedicated,” said Crager, who received his Rock Steady certification in November 2017. “They have realized how much exercise helps them in their everyday life and we provide a safe place and the equipment to do this. The fact they're coming back week after week proves to me they are dedicated to this program.”

RSBMC is not a “boys only” club.

“No, it definitely is not,” stressed Crager. “I have three ladies and they work every bit as hard as their male counterparts.”

Participants come expecting a workout that varies from session to session.

“We cover flexibility, balance, light weight training and boxing drills, so a workout is hard to describe because it's ever growing and changing,” said Crager.

The cardio portion of the workouts is closely monitored by Crager, who knows his “fighters” will give their all and then some.

“When you're dealing with PD fighters, you have to be careful because you're usually dealing with elderly fighters who sometimes will try too hard. As a coach you have to monitor them so they don't overdo it because they all want to do their best in order to fight this disease,” said Crager. “Most of our cardio is done using boxing drills.”

Why a workout centered around boxing instead of some other form of exercise?

“Boxing provides a total body workout,” explained Crager. “ESPN did a study of 60 different sports, including basketball, football, hockey, soccer and rated them hardest to easiest. Boxing ranked first.”

According to Crager, participants receive more than a good workout.

“My fighters see many benefits, including improved balance and coordination, gains in strength and I've had one student lose nearly 50 pounds,” he said. “Maybe the greatest benefits are the friendships and bonds they make with other Parkinson fighters. It also helps them to be with people facing the same problems and encouraging each other to do their best and not give up.”

Crager can closely relate to his PD “fighters” because he has been going toe to toe with the same affliction for over a decade.

“I got diagnosed in 2006 and soon after began Rock Steady training and have had great results,” said Crager, who turns 54 in March. “Although Monroe City wasn't the first Rock Steady Boxing (site) in the state of Missouri, I can honestly say I've been doing this method the longest in the state of Missouri. I can be proud of that.”

Crager, who does a Rock Steady workout four to five times a week, can testify regarding its benefits.

“It has helped me physically. I know that if I didn't work out I wouldn't be able to do things with my family that I love to do like vacationing, sports or just taking walks with my wife,” he said.

Among Crager's PD symptoms are a soft voice and stutter. Consequently, he knows his actions speak louder than his words, which is why he is more than a RSBMC instructor.

“The classes are still small enough I can fill in if there is an odd number. That allows me a chance to be a role model for what I can't always explain in words,” he said. “I always try to set the bar for them by leading by example, knowing that it helps me out if I push myself hard.”

Before moving into his new 2,100 square foot home, Crager, a teacher/coach in Monroe City for 29 years before retiring two years ago, was allowed to lead Rock Steady in the school district's weight room.

“Without the administration allowing me to use their facilities these past few years, I wouldn't have been able to bring Rock Steady Boxing to this area and see it help so many people fighting and holding their own against PD,” he said.

In addition to the school district, Crager cited an assortment of support he and RSBMC have received from his family along with coach Brock Edris, Mary Yager and the St. Stephen's Knights of Columbus.

“Maybe my biggest thanks should go out to my Parkinson's Disease fighters who show up and sweat their tails off to make their lives healthier and happier,” he said. “I love being around these fighters. They don't realize how much they inspire me to be a better person and to keep in shape so I can help them keep in shape.”

For more information on RSBMC, Crager can be reached by email at cragerphatdog@gmail.com or monroecity@rsbaffiliate.com. 

Reach reporter Danny Henley at danny.henley@courierpost.com.