Retired Chicago firefighter fights Parkinson’s with boxing


DES PLAINES, Ill – Cat Renar has always been an active person.

She needed to be, driving engines for the Chicago Fire Department for 20 years. But right around the time she decided to retire, Cat started to notice a change in her body.

“I was going from doctor to doctor to try to figure out what was going on. My fine motor skills were lagging and I was having a lot of medical issues that I wasn’t understanding.”

Cat was eventually diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.

“It’s a disease that affects the brain. It causes symptoms slowly over time. It affects older people, so the risk increases as you get older,” explained Dr. Roshni A. Patel, a neurologist at Rush University Medical Center.

While there is no cure for Parkinson’s, Dr. Patel says you can fight it with medication and physical activity.

With that in mind, someone from Cat’s support group spearheaded a boxing class at Gregory Boxing to fight the disease together.

“Actually working out and exercising is the one thing they know for sure on how to combat it – to combat the progression of it. Thus, this whole boxing thing was born out of that principle,” Renar noted.

“We actually also got funding and through that idea we actually applied for a grant through the Parkinson’s Foundation to set up a program such as this,” added Dr. Patel. “This is a kind of collaborative program for both Rush, the Parkinson’s Foundation and this boxing gym.”

Dr. Patel has been assessing the improvements Cat’s boxing classmates have made, testing how their motor and non-motor symptoms are slowing the progression of the disease.

“I think one of the interesting and exciting things that we’re going to see and that we’re checking for are some of the mood changes,” Dr. Patel remarked. “Folks with Parkinson’s can have things like high rates of anxiety, depression, apathy – things of that nature. We’re hoping to see improvement in some of those non-motor and psychiatric symptoms, as well. That hasn’t been looked at as much in research.”

“Movement loosens you up, mentally. It just improves your mood. Every time I leave there I’m in a better mood. I can definitely see a change in that and my thinking is pretty clear.”

Even as she faces a seemingly insurmountable uphill battle, Cat is not throwing in the towel.

“Boxing is awesome. It really helps me feel like I’m doing something to offset the disease.

“I’m going to fight it tooth and nail, every which way I can. If being active is what it takes then that’s what I plan on doing, even now in my retirement.”



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