In This Corner

One of the books on the bookshelf in my office is Dempsey, the autobiography (as told to Bob Considine and Bill Slocum) of the great heavyweight boxer Jack Dempsey.  On the inside front cover, in black ink, my grandfather wrote, “Nov. 5 1971 – To my grandson David.  I would not want you to be a prize fighter. But you should learn to defend yourself. One never knows.  Chris Gourdoux.”  Since November 5, 1971, was the day after I turned thirteen years old, I can only assume the book was given to me as a birthday gift. One of the things I remember about my grandfather was that Jack Dempsey was a hero of his.  I seem to remember a story about my grandfather meeting Dempsey once, but I can’t for the life of me remember any details.

My grandfather was born late in the nineteenth century (I can’t remember if it was 1896 or 1899), and as a young man, for a period of time, he was a boxer.  How good of a boxer he was, we can only speculate. I found him in the Boxing Records site ( His name is misspelled (Chris Gourdaux), but the date and being from Flambeau, Wisconsin make it unmistakably him. They have a record from only one fight, a six round draw with someone named Joe Blake from Birchwood, Wisconsin, on December 9, 1921, although I know the records are incomplete, that he had more fights than that.

Sometime after the Joe Blake match, he took over the family farm, and his fighting days were over. When I knew him, he was older and retired from both ventures, but, like we all do when we grow older, he spoke with a fondness for those days as a fighter, the days when he was young. He came to visit us in the summer of 1971. I remember asking him what he thought of the first fight between Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali, which had just taken place, and I remember him saying that he thought Ali was a better boxer, but Frazier was a stronger puncher. I also remember one warm morning stepping out on our front porch and hearing loud snorting sounds coming from the garage.  I looked in to find my seventy five year old grandfather shadow boxing, working up a good lather, and loudly breathing and snorting through his nose, still enlarged and flattened from fights that took place fifty years earlier.

My grandfather died in 1984. What has me thinking about him is a workout regime I recently started at “Go the Distance Fitness,” a small gym here in Kenosha, Wisconsin.  “Go the Distance Fitness” specializes in training boxers, and providing workouts that use boxing training methods. A friend made my wife and I aware of a report on NPR about how a gym in Rhode Island is using boxing training as a method of fighting the onslaught of Parkinson ’s disease.   It’s the latest example of how exercise can help fight the advancement of the disease, and appealed to me immediately, as I have no patience for the treadmill or stationary bike in my basement.  I try, and within minutes I am bored to death, and thinking about that leftover burrito in the refrigerator.

The workout is called circuit training, and consists of two minute rounds at various stations.  There are curls done with weighted balls, there are various punching bags (including a speed bag and a big bag), there are crunches and medicine balls, there’s just enough to work up a good sweat and get you breathing.  It’s all go at your own pace, so if your old and out of shape like myself, you start at lower levels and expend less energy until you’re ready to pick it up a pace.

It’s perfect for me because it gets me out of the house, it isn’t too demanding, it’s fun, and it’s short enough not to become drudgery.  It seems to really help with my Parkinson’s symptoms – I’m noticing already improvements in my balance and posture after working out.  To be clear, this training isn’t designed for Parkinson’s and it’s not considered physical therapy.  It does, however, seem to be similar to other regimes, like music and dance therapy, that have been successful in helping PD patients.  The little bit I understand about the theory behind exercise and Parkinson’s is that people with Parkinson’s have a shortage of dopamine, that their brains are not producing and transmitting enough dopamine to its receptors.  What certain types of repetitive exercise do is establish a rhythm that the brain can adjust to in place of the natural rhythm of the transmission of dopamine that the disease has disrupted.  This is why dance therapy has proved so effective, and why working the speed bag, for example, should also be effective.  This is also why, I believe, that writing has been so therapeutic for me – in addition to giving voice to my anxieties, there is a cadence to writing that when you get on a roll can be downright euphoric.

In my previous post, “The Other Side of the Coin,” I was having a bad day, the combination of Parkinson’s and cabin fever having gotten to me. So far, working out at Go the Distance has helped on both counts, getting me out of the house and making me feel better.  Most importantly, it’s given me back a sense that I can fight this disease, and maybe, if I can’t beat it, like my grandfather against Joe Blake, maybe I can work my way to a draw.

My grandfather wrote, “But you should learn to defend yourself.  One never knows.” I understand now that I need to defend myself against my own willingness to give up.Putting on a pair of gloves a few times a week seems like a good place to start.

“Go the Distance Fitness” is located in Simmons Plaza at 7707 Sheridan Road in Kenosha. It is owned by Dan and Carol Ouimet. Their phone number is 262-654-2741.  Visit them on the web at

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