Hometown Hero: Michael Cohen

Michael Cohen is not training world champions at the moment, just winners.

The former Olympic weightlifter has combined four decades of competing and coaching into 45 minutes, with a program he has designed to help Parkinson's patients turn back time.

"It is absolutely incredible what we're seeing,’’ said Cohen. “It is night and day difference.’’

GEM, or "Get Excited and Move," combines boxing, Olympic weightlifting, agility drills and calisthenics; activities Parkinson's patients might have typically avoided.

Cohen is finding that they are tools to improve mobility, strength and confidence.

"It's 45 minutes, and you're going to do a lot of things,’’ said Cohen, who studied existing boxing-only programs for Parkinson’s patients before developing GEM. “But you're not a patient, you're not a client, you're an athlete. You're my athlete. It's the most amazing thing I've ever seen. We have 20 in the program; we have 20 show up every night.’’

The program started five weeks ago, and the participants in this first session offered have already noticed benefits.

"I feel like my strength and agility improve every time we do it,’’ said Bob Kensill, President of the Savannah Parkinson’s Support Group and a GEM participant. “I really like the boxing part of it.’’

"There is nothing that I couldn't do before, it's just that I do them a lot better now,’’ added Gary Pauley, who also takes the class that meets Tuesdays and Thursdays at the Cohen-Anderson Weightlifting Center. “My hand and eye coordination has gotten a lot better, and my upper body strength has gotten better as well.’’

Cohen has seen improvement in each of the 10 Parkinson’s patients, who take the class with a partner or caregiver. He has also heard from some class members who have noticed a difference in their everyday lives.

"A woman came in the other day,’’ said Cohen, “and she said, 'you're not going to believe this, but I played nine holes of golf yesterday. I haven't played golf in two years.’’

There are already plans for another class and another level of activity for the current participants. This WTOC Hometown Hero says there is also more reason for hope for people with Parkinson's.

"We're booked through August,’’ said Cohen. “I had no idea there was that much excitement. My phones ring off the hook with people saying, 'please, can you get my father in, can you get my mother in. It crosses both genders, it crosses all ethnic groupings. It's an under-served group of people.’’

SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - Copyright 2016 WTOC. All rights reserved.