Ping pong club formed for Madisonians with Parkinson’s disease
MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - A new group in Madison helps those living with Parkinson’s disease slow the progression of their symptoms through the game of ping pong.
The Madison chapter of PingPongParkinson was formed in March by two women living with Parkinson’s, Karen Staebell and Carol Cameron.
Parkinson’s disease (PD) is an incurable and progressive brain disorder that leads to physical and cognitive changes.
The twice weekly meetups at the East Madison Community Center offer those with PD a dose of the best “medicine” there is for their symptoms: exercise.
Staebell explained that while playing ping pong, “you use your whole brain to do it, because you have the response, you know the ball coming at you, you’ve got to respond. You have the planning, where am I going to hit that ball to on the court?”
The organization, which has chapters across the country, was founded by musician Nenad Bach. “After a few years he was no longer able to play the guitar and so he was disheartened, but a friend of his invited him to play ping pong. After the session of ping pong, he went home, and he felt much better,” explained Staebell.
The first several minutes of each session begins with facial exercises, vocal exercises, juggling, and stretching. Then, they play several rounds of ping pong for about an hour.
“It’s such a good feeling to know that people have a place where they can come, let go of their worries, enjoy themselves, and also benefit from the activities that they are engaging in,” said Staebell.
These sessions are open to people with any brain disorder as well as their care partners.
“She goes to the gym, I go to the gym,” said Russell Kumai, the husband and care partner of Carol Cameron, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s nearly three years ago.
“It’s a huge emotional hit when it first happens, but then it’s good if you can deal with it as a team,” told Kumai.
After just a few months of playing ping pong, combined with medication and other daily exercise, Russell is seeing improvement in Carol’s symptoms. “Carol has tremors in her left hand, so she’s been playing with both hands too. And at this stage here most people see us here as a couple and they ask which one of you has Parkinson’s?”
David Anderson started coming to PingPongParkison a few weeks ago to incorporate more activity into his routine.
“I don’t see Parkinson’s as a death sentence. It’s just another way of getting older.”
He was diagnosed about 1.5 years ago after he started developing balance issues following his fifth back surgery. “I used to have what’s called the frozen feet, where you’d move but your feet wouldn’t move,” said Anderson.
He said exercise helps lessen his symptoms, in addition to medication. He enjoys the comradery and friendly competition that PingPongParkinson offers.
“I was very welcomed, that was really nice, and I’m meeting new people every time I come here. I thought I was a pretty good player, until I played this guy the other day, and he’s really good!”
The group also aims to combat a silent symptom of brain disorders: isolation. “I’m really happy to be a part of this group,” said Anderson.
Madison’s PingPongParkinson chapter meets Thursdays from 10:00-11:30 a.m. and Sundays from 2:00-3:30 p.m. at the East Madison Community Center gym, located at 8 Straubel Ct.
There is no charge to attend, but donations of $5 are welcome, as they are charged rent to use the space.
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