2016 update: Alex and Roberta have expanded their services and have created a great new non-profit organization, offering support and training to overcome Parkinson’s disease, or stoPD.
What happens when an instructor in neurological surgery, who is also a researcher in the Molecular Neurosurgery Laboratory at the Department of Neurosurgery at Weill Cornell Medical College, puts her head together with a professional actor, who is also an athlete and personal trainer with a degree in clinical psychology? Something amazing! Meet Roberta and Alex, co-founders of Rock Steady Boxing NY/LA, a non-profit organization that provides physical and psychological support for people diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.
I met with Alex and Roberta and experienced their non-contact, boxing-inspired method first hand. I had a wonderful workout that was tailored to my specific needs, which was invigorating and improved my strength, and my confidence, almost immediately. They are launching Rock Steady Boxing NY/LA on March 5, 2014. Check out the events page for details. Here’s what they had to say:
LT: Today I have the pleasure of speaking with Alex Montaldo and Roberta Marongiu. Alex and Roberta are a very wonderful power team and they are creating a wonderful opportunity for people with PD to improve their physical fitness and to help mollify there symptoms through boxing and exercise. The name of the organization is Rock Steady Boxing New York and LA. Welcome. Thank you for talking with me. Tell me a little bit about yourselves and how you came to be part of this venture.
Roberta: So, I am a neuroscientist. I work in the department of neurosurgery at Weill Cornell Medical College and every year I usually go to neuroscience meetings to discuss what we are doing, how to find the cure. the results, what is important to look at. But I went to a particular meeting in Montreal last October, which was the World Parkinson’s Conference, and it was a different approach to research. Instead of just discussing results, this amazing conference, what it does, it brings together researchers, clinicians, MDs, and patients, all together to discuss the main issues and how to solve them. So while I was there, together with scientific presentation, you could actually have a lot of other experiences, like presentations of different workout routines that can be done to improve motor function and also to improve social relationships. So one of the workouts that really really impressed me was the Rock Steady Boxing group, because whereas the other ones do a little bit of exercise and stretching, like yoga and all these kinds of workouts, the Rock Steady really gives you not just muscle strength but emotional strength. When they did the demonstration you could see people that really, when they started, were feeling weak, and then when leaving the room, feeling strong and empowered. It was really impressive and amazing to see and in that moment I realized that all I am doing in the lab, yes it is amazing and yes it is to find a cure, but who knows when that’s going to happen, because it takes time. So I always thought I would I want to be a researcher to to help patients, but then I realized helping the future patients is not enough, that we have to help the present patients as well. So I called my husband on the phone right after I spoke to the Rock Steady Boxing people and I said, we’ve gotta do this, are you on board, and he was super excited ’cause he’s a personal trainer as well. I think combining my research experience as a scientist in the Parkinson’s field, and his experience as a psychologist and personal trainer, we could be a great team to approach all the different sides of the disease.
Roberta: So then he was on board and that’s how we started.
LT: That’s awesome.
Alex: Alright, for me, well, her excitement was a big part of the reason why I want to do it because you know, I trust her. I know she knows a lot about Parkinson’s and I know that if she liked the program, that meant there was something to it, that was worth investigating and getting to know. Plus what I do as a career, what to do for a living is, I’m an actor, and that’s pretty much the most self-centered and let’s say, self-involved, in a way, type of career you can have. I love it, it’s what I do but at some point I feel like I need to do something more meaningful. And this was a perfect opportunity to do so. So what I did was, I went out to Indianapolis and took the training. They were amazing, all of them, and I could see for myself this kind of training does work. On many different levels, and also I have been an athlete for pretty much all my life, and there was one person there that really made me think. All of them were, all their stories were interesting and of course they all…
LT: You mean the people at Rock City Boxing, the patients?
Alex: Yes, the patients, but one of them who was the person that I could relate to the most. Because he used to be a basketball player. His name is Tom Timberlake, big man, the kind of person that you see them and you go, wow, that guy can do stuff that almost nobody else can do.
Alex: And that’s what his life was before. But then you look at him now and you can still still see the strong person that he is but, to me, I mean the person I am, to me it has always been very important, you know, to make sure that I was always on top of my game, that I was always able to physically and intellectually to do stuff that most people wouldn’t be able to do. The idea of control for me has always been the main focus. Being able to go there, wherever I want to go and just get whatever I wanted to get. And to see someone like him who led most of his life that way, being physically super fit and able to do stuff that that people usually can’t do, to now have to deal with limitations. And technically he doesn’t have the the controls that he used to have over his own life anymore.
LT: Certainly not his own body.
Alex: Yes definitely, but to me he was the one person that I could really relate to and see myself in the position, and that really made me think a lot. And I thought that if I was able to do anything to help people gain control of their life again, a different kind of control. I mean it makes you think that a big part of what you are, what I am, or people like me are, is based on how lucky we are to be able to choose to do whatever we want and call ourselves “go getters” and you know be strong and be active, and sometimes we take it for granted. Sometimes when we see somebody like us in a different…
LT: Set of circumstances.
Alex: Set of circumstances and a different situation, a different position, it makes you feel like you’re really blessed and you should do something to help somebody else. And that’s why, part of the reason, why I was so excited, and I am so excited about this. I know we are going to be able to do it, and we’re going to be able to help a lot of people who deserve to be helped, regardless of their financial situation. That’s the other big part of it.
LT: I noticed that your fee was very low.
Alex: Right, and we I want to be able to give everybody the chance to benefit from the program. Even if they can’t afford to pay anything. So what we want to do is have people who can afford it pay a membership or a monthly fee, and at the same time give people who can’t afford it the same chance to benefit from the program.
Roberta: We’ll find a way. We’ll organize fundraisers and events so we can receive some donations that can help cover the expenses and help the ones that can’t afford it.
Roberta: That’s why we are a non-profit. We didn’t want to put together a small business or be just like a regular gym. We want to do it this way because it’s not fair to give the chance to benefit from this program just to the ones who can afford it. We want to make sure that everybody can participate.
LT: That’s wonderful. Well I have to tell you, you guys gave me a great workout today and I feel great. I definitely feel more positive. The interesting thing is, you know, I have my limitations but I feel just from doing the exercises and the sparring, I feel so much more positive, much more empowered, much more like it’s possible to to improve.
Alex: Yeah, ‘cause the main thing is, by doing this you focus on what you can do and not what you cannot do.
LT: What you can do…
Alex: So it’s, yes you have your limitations like everybody else but the main goal is to take you from wherever you’re at to a place where you can do something more, and something more, and something more, and something more. It doesn’t matter how much you improve or how fast you do, the only thing is that you do. The most important thing is that it doesn’t matter what stage of your condition you are at or whatever, there is always room for improvement, and that is what we are going for. And we don’t even talk about the negative stuff because we all know about that, and it’s something you have to keep in mind, but for the period of time, for that hour, you can just forget about that.
Roberta: You forget about your life, you just go there and have a great time with people that basically become your friends, in the class.
Alex: Hopefully. It happens a lot, it becomes a group. I wouldn’t call it a support group, but it is a group that gives each other support.
LT: Well listen, thank you so much for talking with me. I am very very excited about your program and I would like everybody to find out about it, and I will do my best to do that.
Roberta: Thank you so much.
Alex: Thank you and thank you for your time.