Battling back against Parkinson’s

John Cullen, 61, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s and is using weightlifting to stop the disease from controlling his life. (Credit: WINK News)

One man is not letting a degenerative disease hold him back.

John Cullen, 61, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s and is using weightlifting to stop the disease from controlling his life.

It’s a heavy weight to bear, and it’s a heavy weight to continue to battle against,” he said.

He started lifting that heavy weight physically. At first, he trained himself, but without someone to push him, “I was still having a lot of Parkinson’s symptoms – the shuffling, the bent over, that kind of stuff.”

Then, he found Vincent Lamphere, a personal trainer at Iron DNA Fitness.

“We’re doing powerlifting. We’re doing central nervous system overloading training and stimulation,” Lamphere said.

With each rep, Cullen started feeling more control and fewer symptoms.

“As we kept on going, his posture would improve, his steps were longer, he wouldn’t drag his feet so much. He’s getting stronger,” Lamphere said.

“When I started with Vince, I was probably deadlifting 285 pounds. I just was in a competition a few weeks ago and attempted 475. Didn’t quite get it, but my max is now 465,” Cullen said.

Those gains are backed by science. Julie Robichaud, a kinesiology expert at the University of Illinois of Chicago, studied the impact of progressive resistance training on Parkinson’s patients compared to those who worked with physical therapists.

“Both groups did basically the same, until they were both basically conditioned, then at that point, then it matters how you push the person,” she said.

She found the push from progressive resistance training created a significant reduction in Parkinson’s symptoms.

Another benefit: Access and affordability.

“Insurance isn’t going to pay for you to go to see a therapist. So this program was designed as a community-based program,” Robichaud said.

“The fact that you can give someone the ability to empower them to get back what they lost from Parkinson’s, I feel like I’m giving someone a second chance at life,” Lamphere said.

For Cullen, it’s a chance to keep fighting.

“My motto is – it’s just Parkinson’s,” he said.

“That’s my attitude every single day – which is, OK, what do we have to do to defeat this today? I’m not going to rest until I can defeat it. So don’t give up.”

Doctors told Cullen to stay active but not specifically to try strength training. That’s why he’s sharing his story, so other Parkinson’s patients can learn about the benefits of weightlifting and they can keep fighting, too.

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