discoveries magazine

The Boxer: Vince Hendrickson

They Call Him 'Bulldog'

Vince Hendrickson

Photo by Austin Hargrave

Like Clark Kent removing his glasses, Vince Hendrickson just makes one small wardrobe change to summon hidden strength. Twice a week, he pulls on bright-red boxing gloves to push through Parkinson's symptoms and complete demanding workouts at a Los Angeles boxing gym. He hammers the punching bag with such tenacity that his coach calls him "Bulldog."

"Vince is ferocious. He works really hard," says Lauren Von Bernuth, a coach in the Support and Training to Overcome Parkinson's Disease (stoPD) program. Hendrickson, a 65-year-old retiree with a slight build but strong will, works out alongside others in fighting Parkinson's with gloves on.

Hendrickson was diagnosed in 2002. He sought treatment at Cedars-Sinai after he and his wife, Helene, moved to Los Angeles from New Jersey about four years ago to spend more time with their two grandchildren. He underwent deep brain stimulation surgery to treat his motor symptoms and takes medication, but he still struggles with gait and balance issues, low energy, and depression.

Before hitting the gym, the disease has a grip on him. His gait is unsteady, he leans forward, and almost stumbles. After he warms up, though, Hendrickson responds instantly to his coach's commands and the shaky gait is gone.

"Move around the bag. Give me speed. Fast hands. Fast," Von Bernuth urges.

Hendrickson is breathless when he stops for a break. He learned about the boxing program from his Cedars-Sinai neurologist, Michele Tagliati, MD, who had seen other patients benefit from intense exercise.

Hendrickson says the concentration required for boxing's footwork helps him avoid falls in his daily life. "It trains me to think about how I'm moving," he explains.

When he puts his gloves on, he's in the zone, focuses on the bag, and pushes himself to punch harder. "I'm a power hitter, and the intensity of the training gets results," he says. "It is helping me cope emotionally, too. I get my frustrations out on the bag."

Read on to see how these men and women are redefining what it means to live with Parkinson’s by practicing and excelling at the sports they love.