Parkinson's Not Stopping Zumba Gold Instructor Rick Copple

Rick Copple leads a Zumba Gold class at the Cottonwood Shores Library. Copple took up Zumba in 2015 as a way to help slow the progression of his Parkinson’s Disease symptoms. Now, he’s an instructor and teaches classes both in Burnet and Cottonwood Shores. Staff photo by Daniel Clifton

COTTONWOOD SHORES — Rick Copple remembers the first time he stepped into a Zumba class at the YMCA of the Highland Lakes at Galloway-Hammond in Burnet. It was February 2015, and the 56-year-old realized, very quickly, he was the only guy around.

It wasn't lost on the others in the class either.

"We just swarmed on him," said Amanda Jaynes, a Zumba instructor. "And he didn't kind of hide in the back of the class."

"I went right up front," Copple said. "If I was going to do it, I was going to do it."

This was a man who had last danced during a high school class project. The irony of the situation is, since that first class, Copple has earned his basic Zumba instructor certification and recently added Zumba Gold.

Now, Copple doesn't just go to the front row; he goes to the front of the class, where he leads.

He recently began holding Zumba Gold classes at the former Cottonwood Shores Library, 4111 Cottonwood Drive. It's his way of sharing a workout that helped him stave off the symptoms of Parkinson's, one reason he took that first dance step two years ago.

"I wanted to stay viable as long as I could," Copple said.

Doctors first diagnosed Copple with Parkinson's disease in 2013, though the first symptoms showed up in 2012. Parkinson's is a progressive disorder of the nervous system that hinders a person's movements. With a disease that affects mobility, Zumba might sound like the last thing Copple should be doing. For the first two years after his diagnosis, Copple focused on his diet and taking supplements as a way to address the symptoms, which often are jerky movements and what some might describe as "ticks."

"My disease was progressing," Copple said. "Then I read exercise — particularly aerobic — was the only thing research showed that slowed the progression of Parkinson's."

He also learned dance was at the top of the list.

Jaynes said it definitely took some courage on Copple’s part to participate in that first class. She and the other female instructors have tried to get their husbands to do it, but they politely decline.

Not only did Copple take that first class, he also came back — again and again.

"You have to give it a few weeks to see if it's making any difference," Copple said of Zumba.

And in a few weeks, he began to notice a change in his conditioning.

Copple initially couldn’t detect any slowing in the disorder’s progression, but Zumba still drew him in.

"It's just fun with the music and upbeat movement," he said. "You have a lot of people, they go to lift weights or do other things, but they kind of have to force themselves to go. Zumba, you look forward to it."

Before Zumba, Copple wasn't very active. He once served as the Cottonwood Shores city treasurer and also spent time writing. All were desk jobs, he pointed out. Not a lot of movement.

As he kept plugging away at Zumba, Copple noticed a change in his body. He began to add muscle, despite the Parkinson's. The onetime desk jockey now has a resting heart rate that hovers at an impressive 47-48 beats per minute.

And a year into Zumba, Copple noticed his Parkinson's symptoms weren't progressing at near the rate they had been prior to undertaking the upbeat, Latin music-infused workout.

He became a big advocate of Zumba and eventually became a certified Zumba Basic instructor. Then, in January, he traveled to Orlando, Florida, to earn his Zumba Gold instructor certification.

While Zumba can be adapted to any person's fitness level, the Gold course is specifically geared toward people with mobility issues, whether age-related or caused by disease or even a stroke.

"The Gold choreography is designed for people with more limited mobility," Copple said. "It's easier for people to pick up."

He uses movements those with limited mobility can do. Even then, he tells students that if they get to a movement they can’t do, march in place.

Copple loves sharing Zumba with people. The Zumba Gold class is his way of helping others get stronger and healthier, no matter their situation.

"I'm hoping I can pass on the benefits to others,” Copple said. "So many people have helped me out, I just want to be able to give something back."

Jaynes views Copple as an inspiration.

"He's been wonderful to be around and have around," she said. "He doesn't let the Parkinson's hold him back. It's been amazing to watch him become such a good, inspirational instructor. If people don't think they can do (Zumba), they just need to come and see Rick, take a class with him.

"They'll be amazed," she added.

Copple offers Zumba Gold classes from 9-10 a.m. Fridays. The first class is free, so there’s no excuse for not trying. Go to rickcopple.zumba.com/classes for more information.

daniel@thepicayune.com

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