Jeff Klug boxed to slow the progression of Parkinson’s disease until he acquired a puppy.
Now the 62-year-old walks five miles every day with Izzy, a black lab and Doberman mix.
“Walking is just as effective, but it’s equivocally different than boxing,” Klug said. “It’s good for me but I’m not sure it’s as good. Boxing was helping,” he admitted.
Dr. Susan Baser agreed. The Allegheny Health Network neurologist said, “boxing is better than walking” because of aspects such as socialization as well as the actual physical build-up of core strength, balance and coordination.
When he attended the Wolfpack Boxing Club in Carnegie, Klug improved in all those areas because he participated in the HOPE program. It is designed to help those diagnosed with the disease to overcome Parkinson’s every day. He did not actually spar with an opponent, but he would strike punching dummies, bags and speed bags as well as jump rope and perform other calisthenics.
Before learning about the program, Klug said he had “no knowledge” of boxing. He was aware though that professional boxer Muhammad Ali had the disease.
However, Ali was not the impetus to box.
“Just to keep my balance up,” Klug explained why he started boxing. “Definitely,” he added. “It did help some.”
What helped Klug most was getting a proper diagnosis.
On the day his father, Don, passed away in late 2011, Klug started experiencing tremors in his jaw. He chewed gum for two years to stop them. He was treated for Lyme disease until doctors at Johns Hopkins said it was not causing his symptoms. After many scans and tests, he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease on Feb. 21.
“My birthday,” said Klug. “Some present. I was devastated.”
The disease eventually cost Klug his career.
Though he earned an engineering degree from the University of Missouri, Klug discovered his true path by working with a young boy saddled with cerebral palsy. He became a physical therapist, educated by the University of Pittsburgh.
Explaining he was at a crossroads, Klug said, “I thought about what I really wanted to do with my life.”
Until he “started falling,” Klug managed UPMC’s Centers For Rehab Services, located in Castle Shannon.
“It was the most rewarding thing I have ever done. I enjoyed every part of it. I never worked a day because it was not work. It was a pleasure, especially being able to help eliminate pain for people.
“It was frustrating to give it up. I would still be working if I could.”
Today, Klug resides in Houston with his wife, Rebecca. They had two grown children, John Naumann, 37, and Emily Smith, 31. When he isn’t walking his dog, he may work out, boxing with a speed bag that hangs in his basement.
“I don’t think anybody accepts (Parkinson’s). You cope with it,” he said. “My wife has been very supportive. She’s awesome,” he added. “She works. I exercise. Walking helps but I definitely would recommend boxing.”
Baser added that walking is “always good” as long as it’s safe, and the dog is good. She once had an active patient that broke a hip because the dog tripped her.
“It has to be the right dog. Well-behaved and able to pace you,” she stressed. “Bottom line, any activity helps but boxing can really make a difference.”