Ryan Cotton, President and CEO of Rock Steady Boxing, Fighting Back at Rock Steady Boxing to improve the lives of people with PD

An interview with Ryan Cotton, President and CEO of Rock Steady Boxing, HQ Gym: Fighting Back at Rock Steady Boxing to improve the lives of people with PD on February 16, 2024 by George Ackerman, Ph.D, J.D.




My name is Ryan Cotton and I currently serve as the President and CEO of Rock Steady Boxing.


Please tell me a little about your background.


I live with my wife and two children on the West side of Indianapolis. I am a physical therapist and completed my undergrad and master’s at the University of Evansville in 1998 followed by my Doctor of Health Science at the University of Indianapolis in 2006.


After serving Rock Steady Boxing on the Board of Directors for nearly a decade, I transitioned into a staff role with the organization as the Chief Scientific Officer in 2020, and then moved into my current role as President and CEO in 2022.


During my time with the organization, I have seen RSB transition from the initial location in an aerobics room in Indianapolis to 800+ locations around the world.


Can you tell me more about your organization?


Rock Steady Boxing was founded in 2006 by Scott Newman who was the Marion County (Indianapolis) Prosecutor. He was diagnosed with YOPD and started a boxing-based workout to fight his PD symptoms which he noted improved significantly in the months after he started this exercise. He was part of a YOPD support group who joined him in his exercise plan which was led by Kristy Follmar who was a world champion boxer. From this initial group, RSB was born. In late 2012, RSB started teaching others the RSB method and curriculum which has now been taken back to communities all over the world.


What is your passion and how did you get involved in Parkinson’s awareness and hope for a cure?


When I was invited to the initial Board of a new start-up non-profit in Indianapolis that delivered boxing for PD, I did not have a personal connection to the disease. I was simply a young professional who, through his therapy degree, could be of service to this new organization. It was not until a few years later that my father was diagnosed with PD and my commitment to the organization and community became much more personal.


What type of goals do individuals with Parkinson’s have when working with you?


Our mission at RSB is to equip our affiliates and empower our coaches to improve the quality of life of people with PD in their RSB classes in their communities. My goal is that the boxers leaving RSB classes have hope which might have gone away when they were diagnosed.


What type of training and how long are the programs?


To become a certified RSB Head Coach, one must complete our training which is comprised of 12-hour online learning plus a 2-day in-person skills lab where they learn the delivery of the RSB method.


Boxers participating in RSB classes can typically expect a 60-90 minute workout which is designed specifically to address the symptoms of PD. The RSB curriculum is not just boxing, it is strength, endurance, flexibility, agility, balance all wrapped into one class. Along with the workout, a boxer can expect a great sense of community and support that comes from fellow boxers in the gym.


What effect can it have on an individual with Parkinson’s?


Currently in the literature there is evidence that states participants in RSB have decreased falls, better balance, improved gait, improved non-motor symptoms, and overall improved quality of life.


Anecdotally, I see participants gain hope and confidence. They return to social activities they may have been avoiding. They can participate in family events, keep working, or return to sporting participation that they may have stopped. They can get parts of their life back that they thought were gone due to their PD.


What would you like to see as a future goal for your programs?


Although we have 800 locations around the world, we are only reaching a small percentage of the people who could benefit from our program. One goal I have for the relatively near future is to get our training translated into different languages so we can reach non-English speakers that are traditionally underserved.


What events do you participate in?


My goal is to participate in events throughout the PD community. From supporting local and state initiatives in the Indiana legislature, to attending PD community events in collaboration with all of the National Parkinson’s-centric organizations and foundations, my goal is to get information out to support and serve the PD community.


How does this also assist the caregivers?


Yes, the caregivers are an integral part of RSB. They are invited to class to work out alongside of their boxer and are a significant part of the RSB Community.


How can someone get in touch?  What is your website?


My email is and our website is


How can others also become advocates for awareness?


I would encourage everyone to attend and observe an RSB class in their community. You can find all of our affiliate locations on our website. If there is no RSB in proximity to you, please contact us and we can help you establish a location in your community. 


In your opinion what is the key to effective advocacy? 


I believe a combined and consistent voice is the key to advocacy.


Why should people who don’t have Parkinson’s care about this? 


PD has the highest incidence rate of any progressive degenerative neurologic disease. If you don’t currently personally don’t know someone with PD…give it a minute. And there are significant steps that can be taken to decrease exposure to environmental elements known to cause PD. It takes all of us to move the dial to slow the progression of this disease.


Have you had any family members or relatives affected by Parkinson’s disease?


Yes, my father was diagnosed with PD in his late 60s which was after the time I started my work with Rock Steady Boxing on the Board. He lived with the disease for over a decade before passing away in 2023.


If you had one song that would tell us more about you or represent your life, which song would it be?


“Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” by the Beatles. It is such a fun song and full of life. It is easy to get overwhelmed in your present, but this song reminds us that “life goes on-BRAH-la-la how their life goes on” Enjoy every day as we are not guaranteed another.


If you had one final statement or quote you could leave for the Parkinson’s community, what would it be?


 All of our work is more powerful when done together. And, for our RSB boxers out there, “Keep your hands up!”