LAWRENCE — It seems unlikely at first, but a professional boxer and a person suffering from Parkinson's disease have much in common.
Each faces a serious fight. The boxer is getting ready to step into the ring and punch his way to a title or for at least an opportunity to vie for a prize.
The Parkinson's patient is in a more desperate battle, fighting hard to keep that devastating disease from destroying his or her body.
Al Latulippe, who has coached boxers, now trains people struggling with Parkinson's to literally fight back against the illness that threatens them. Scientific studies have shown, he said, that vigorous physical activity can slow down or sometimes even reverse the effects of Parkinson's, a degenerative, neurological disease that reduces one's ability to control movement.
Working for Rock Steady Boxing Boston, Latulippe, 35, guides his students through a regimen that includes hitting the heavy bag, jumping rope, lifting dumbbells, lunging exercises and other activities performed by a boxer in training.
The only difference is that Latulippe's students don't spar with each other. They practice non-contact boxing, he explained.
Latulippe, born and brought up in Lawrence, has been guiding Parkinson's patients through boxing routines for three years. He teaches hour-and-a-half classes at Rock Steady Boxing Boston's gymnasiums in Lawrence, Newton, Concord, New Hampshire and Brockton – the city that claims both longtime heavyweight boxing champion Rocky Marciano and middleweight king "Marvelous" Marvin Hagler.
Rock Steady's program is restricted to people who have been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, Latulippe said.
Latulippe started going to the Boys Club – that's what it was called back in those days – when he was 7, the minimum age for admission.
"It was a lot smaller and there was less equipment," he said, as he looked at the dozens of boys and girls shooting baskets in the club's spacious gymnasium during a recent interview.
Latulippe credits the club with giving him the discipline and structure he needed to achieve success in life. After graduating from Methuen High School, he said, he tried several different occupations, including carpentry, sales and musical production.
He also started boxing training at 29, which is rather old for that sport, he noted. Latulippe did not become a heavyweight contender, but he discovered that he liked coaching boxers more than actually exchanging punches.
Latulippe achieved certification as a trainer – and that led to his association with Rock Steady, he said.
"I fell into my own position," he said. "I'm doing it and it is from the heart."
Latulippe said he has always wanted to help people who are less fortunate than he is. For Thanksgiving, he gave dinner certificates to 50 lower-income families. More recently, he sponsored two families for Christmas, making sure they had presents.
Latulippe and his wife, Rebecca Santiago-Latulippe, have a 3-year-old daughter, Isabel.
"She's my little princess," he said.
He teaches her that "it's not about the income, it's about the impact," he said.
"I had good role models," Latulippe said. He mentioned his mother, Gina Latulippe and stepfather, Ron Specht, as well as Stephen Kelley, longtime associate director of the Boys and Girls Club and William Robertson, veteran coach at the club.
"This guy (Latulippe) is a living example," Kelley said, of the kind of men and women the club seeks to develop.