Residents in a senior living community in Rancho Santa Margarita are proving they can pack a punch.
For nine months, the senior living community in Park Terrace has held a weekly boxing program with Gary Ballard, a former professional boxer who once fought for the IBF World super middleweight title.
Ballard, who has fought professionally in South Africa and the U.S., retired from his boxing career in 1998 and focused on becoming a personal trainer.
Since then, he has formed Ballard Fitness, his personal training and kickboxing gym that operates one mile from Park Terrace.
Ballard also founded Rock Steady Boxing of Orange County after becoming an affiliate of Rock Steady Boxing, a national nonprofit that provides boxing programs for people battling Parkinson’s disease.
“I’ve seen the benefits of boxing for people with Parkinson’s and then I got connected with the people at Park Terrace because someone told me I should go check it out,” Ballard said.
Each week at Park Terrace, Ballard sees about a dozen residents arrive to lace on gloves and start swinging.
“Every great boxer has a story about how he or she achieved victory, and our residents are no different, as they are able to overcome hurdles and shape their own triumphs in the ring,” Park Terrace executive director Jerry Church said in a statement. “Typically, you wouldn’t think of seniors boxing at a senior living community, but we’re proud to offer such a unique program.”
At a class last month in Park Terrace, a row of chairs in a large room were set up for residents in a semi-circle and piles of boxing gloves lay in one corner.
Resident Russ Walvoord stepped inside with his own pair of black boxing gloves.
His wife, Lori Walvoord, also a Park Terrace resident, said he’s been there for the classes since the beginning.
“At this point in time, his capability is limited,” Lori said during a phone interview. “He still does some artwork and he walks a lot, but one of the highlights of his week is boxing. He’s one of those who remains on his feet and spars with Gary.”
After residents took a seat, Ballard said he would begin leading everyone through a few warm-ups.
“It’s not so much about doing a killer workout as it is about just getting them moving,” Ballard said. “They certainly feel empowered. It’s a morale booster.”
Together, the trainer and his prospective boxers began lifting their knees and rolling their shoulders.
Ballard tapped Walvoord in his seat and said,“Come on, Russ! Come on!”
Walvoord rose to his feet, balled his bare hands and began to throw jabs at Ballard’s core.
“With the gloves on, Russ!” Ballard said with a smile. “With the gloves!”
Lori Walvoord said she sometimes attends the programs to see her husband and the others box with Ballard.
“I like to see the focused energy,” she said. “It gives a certain amount of release for people with whatever is going on with them. Gary’s doing a wonderful job.”
After warm-ups, Park Terrace staff helped everyone strap on their gloves while Ballard put on a pair of boxing mitts and showed them how to jab with just their left hand.
The boxer got on his knees to meet the seated residents at eye level. As he moved from person to person, each took turns swinging into his mitt.
Some who were lounging back in their seats suddenly sat up straight when Ballard came in front of them.
“Haa! Haa!” they would holler with each punch.
He moved to the final seat in the row where his last boxer gave him a blank stare. He pounded his mitts together twice before turning them to face her.
After a few seconds, she threw her left hand into his mitt. Her lips cracked into a smile.
“You better watch out for me,” she told Ballard.
Ballard demonstrated a few more boxing moves with Park Terrace resident Harry Dismuke, who volunteers to help Ballard during the program.
The group took up the rest of class by learning how to jab with their right hands and how to deliver a one-two punch with both hands.
“For some, things can feel really mundane and uninspired, and they probably didn’t feel like coming here,” Dismuke said. “But when they get out, they’re probably glad they came.”
After class, residents emerged from their seats, smiling.
Dismuke waited for everyone else to exit the room before he walked toward the door.
“Well, time for my yoga class,” Dismuke said.
He turned and said, “I’m only kidding.”