An interview with Bethany Richards from Bike Box Project on August 30, 2023 by George Ackerman, Ph.D, J.D.
I’m from New Bern, NC and graduated from Appalachian State University, graduating with a BS in Broadcast Journalism. Shortly after graduation, 9/11 happened and I joined the Alexandria Fire Department as a paid Firefighter. I loved it! Best job in the world! Unfortunately, I was injured (neck injury) and had to retire after 10 years.
I had met my husband in the Fire Department and after he was 25 years and my 10, we retired back to my hometown of New Bern. Around that time, I learned of my father’s diagnosis and began Pedaling for Parkinson’s. The rest is history. I thought I was meant to be a Firefighter and serve my whole life. Turns out I was meant to be a source to help a much-needed Parkinson’s community and to help support them and help us get closer to that cure!
Can you tell me more about your organization?
Bike Box Project is a nonprofit dedicated to giving hope to people with Parkinson’s disease, particularly those in our local community, by raising awareness and funds to meet their needs and the needs of their caregivers.
A portion of proceeds is contributed to the Michael J. Fox Foundation (https://www.michaeljfox.org/) in support of a cure.
Falling under our nonprofit is Rock Steady Boxing New Bern. RSB is a beneficial exercise program that is researched and internationally recognized. We provide activities for all stages of Pd that will improve functional movements through increased strength, agility, balance, and flexibility with the effect of slowing the progression of the disease.
What is your passion and how did you get involved in Parkinson’s awareness and hope for a cure?
Discovering my father was diagnosed with Parkinson’s many years ago, I attached a donation box to the back of my bicycle and began pedaling for a cure. Our community quickly rallied behind the mission and many donations began flowing for awareness rides, awareness walks, across state bicycle rides (NC, Utah, Florida, Pittsburgh to DC, and West Virginia is this year as we go up to support George Manahan, a fellow Team Fox fundraiser as he hosts the West Virginia Fox Trot). Money raised was being donated to the MJFF when we also thought we could significantly help our local community of people with Parkinson’s, so we started the nonprofit Bike Box Project. After many years, we continue to host so many fundraising events in addition to the awareness rides and walks, like wine and dinner pairings and pickleball tournaments.
Rock Steady Boxing New Bern is clicking on all cylinders, too, as we host 90 people with Pd in our classes, have a very active support group, and active caregiver support group. Things are so great, we are in our very own gym and, though we quickly outgrew our current space, we are now looking for an even bigger facility to buy to host classes and our support groups.
What type of goals do individuals with Parkinson’s awareness have when working with you?
People come to me mostly with Rock Steady Boxing. Goals include increasing mobility and strength. New members want to regain some confidence and take control of their diagnosis.
If not through RSB, their goals might be to have some assistance with in-home items or transport in town, or assistive devices. All these things we can buy for them to make their lives easier. We can install higher toilets, shower bars, do yardwork, get them to and from their beneficial exercise classes, etc. With a grant we received a couple years ago, we purchased a 15-passenger van that picks up and drops off boxers that no longer drive.
What type of training and how long are the programs?
To start a RSB program, an individual must complete online training for exercise and many aspects of Parkinson’s disease. That individual must then get in-house training in Indianapolis, IN to become an official Head Coach for where they want to start RSB.
Once trained, that Head Coach can help to teach others how to train people with Pd in the gym and those coaches only need their online certification.
At our RSB, we hold 2 classes each day of the week and have 1 variety class each week like chair yoga or strength and spin, and we have a game night once a month. The 2 classes a day are 1 of 4 different levels of classes we hold. We have 4 levels of class to serve the wide variety of progression with our members with Pd.
What effect can it have on an individual with Parkinson’s awareness?
Movement and exercise are key for a person with PD. Exercise is medicine. We have seen huge changes in people from when they first walked in our doors to just a couple weeks later. Their stamina, strength, and confidence grow rapidly, and they are amongst a group of people dealing with similar struggles so the camaraderie, they will tell you, is great.
What would you like to see as a future goal for your programs?
We absolutely need a bigger space to function. We are growing at a very fast speed with all the doctors in town sending us their patients that get diagnosed. We started with 6 boxers and now have 90, and that number keeps going up. A larger gym and more variety classes like music therapy and dance would be excellent.
Bike Box Project continues to host successful and fun fundraising events so our hope is to just keep continuing to raise more money and find more folks that need to know about us.
What events do you participate in?
We host our signature events like Bernin’ to the Beach which all proceeds go to the MJFF. This is a 40-mile bicycle ride in a police escort that goes from New Bern to Atlantic Beach.
We do an awareness walk each April. In between those we host a Serving Up Hope Pickleball Tournament, complete across state bicycle rides, and even attend other Team Fox fundraiser events to support our fellow fundraisers.
At RSB, we are doing a “5 Rounds with a Fighter” which is neat. In an effort to get to know our boxers, we are highlighting them and telling their story. It’s a 1-2 min clip about their career and their diagnosis and why they fight back. Each person has a story…and we want to know it before it’s too late. It’s great to hear how much RSB, our program, and our fundraising, has changed their lives for the better.
How does this also assist the caregivers?
When we wrote our grant for a 15-passenger van, we had the caregiver in mind. So many spouses and caregivers have to drop off their boxer at the gym for the workout and then pick them up. This takes up a lot of time when that caregiver could be having some time to themself or running errands, cleaning the house, or simply having some quiet time without taking care of someone.
We also have a very well-attended Caregiver Support Group meeting once a month where they gather and get to vent and talk and share information.
How can someone get in touch? What is your website?
People can feel free to call me or email me (firstname.lastname@example.org and 571-215-9282).
We also have a great website bikeboxproject.org
We have a very active social media presence as well. On Facebook we have 2 pages: Bike Box Project and Rock Steady Boxing New Bern. On IG, Bike Box Project.
If you had one final statement or quote you could leave for the Parkinson community, what would it be?
Keep moving and be your best advocate. Find a Rock Steady gym, get involved, and keep a positive attitude. We know so much about PD now so that that information and make a difference for yourself.
Know, too, that there is a big community of people that have your back.
We support you and will not stop working towards a cure!