One of the unfortunate pieces of information that comes out of the build-up to the historic May 2 clash between Mayweather and Pacquiao is that both lead trainers suffer from debilitating disease processes. Mayweather Sr., Money May’s sixty-two year-old father and trainer, is dealing with Sarcoidosis, while Freddie Roach, Pacquiao’s fifty-five year old trainer, has been dealing with the debilitating effects of Parkinson’s disease for some twenty five years.
Sarcoidosis is a multiple-organ inflammatory disease that affects, including Mayweather Sr., roughly one in every ten thousand people in the United States. While it can present throughout the body it is found primarily in the lymph glands and lungs of men but more commonly women between the ages of twenty and forty years old. The disease process is up to ten to seventeen times more prevalent in African-Americans than their Caucasian counterparts. Studies indicate that people of Puerto Rican, German, Irish and Scandinavian origin are also more prone to acquiring the disease. Symptomology is problematic as some present with no outward signs while others have symptomology that slowly and more subtly manifest.
The symptoms are wide ranging but typically manifest in reddish patches of skin, reddish eyes or blurred vision, occasionally painful and swollen joints, enlarged and sometimes uncomfortable lymph glands, significant pain in feet and hands and bony areas of the body. Some of the more insidious and problematic symptoms manifest in heart and nervous system issues that themselves evolve into a range of significant medical problems including psychiatric and cognitive disorders like psychosis, depression and dementia.
Doctors suggest that those like Mayweather who fall into high risk categories should eat a more plant-based diet, get regular exercise, hydrate appropriately, keep their weight within prescribed limits, sleep six to eight hours a night and, above all else, refrain from smoking. These together with regular checkups with a medical doctor should be most helpful. Mayweather Sr. tries to keep up with the required behavior modifications so that his symptoms do not flare up.
Rarely is the disease, in itself, fatal, but death can occur as a result of complications in the heart, lungs and sometimes the brain. For most the disease comes and goes without notice, while for twenty to thirty percent of others there is permanent lung damage. For some, like Floyd Mayweather Sr., the disease is chronic requiring him to watch his activity closely so as not to aggravate its symptomology. Because of the effects the disease has had on him, among other things, Mayweather Sr. sees his career as a trainer winding down. He has indicated that with Floyd Jr’s coming retirement he may well hang the punch mitts up. As lead trainer the daily grind has taken its toll and it may be time to retire knowing that his legacy is secure.
In the build-up to the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight we see that not only does Mayweather Sr. suffer from a debilitating disease, but both lead trainers are dealing with significant disease processes. In the case of Freddie Roach, he is suffering from the more common Parkinson’s disease. Diagnosed some twenty-five years ago Roach noticed that his body was not responding the way it had earlier. As a veteran of fifty-three professional fights many assume that his Parkinson’s disease is boxing related. Muhammad Ali, former heavyweight champion, considered by many to be the “greatest of all time,” a veteran of sixty-one professional fights, was originally diagnosed with Parkinson’s syndrome. This diagnosis was later clarified as full blown Parkinson’s disease. While some argue that there is no proof boxing played a role in his Parkinson’s, current research suggests that continued blows to the head are indicative of same.
To watch Ali today is difficult for many as they see the same process enveloping Roach. Parkinson’s disease is progressive in nature affecting the nervous system and one’s movement. Many develop trembling in the hand but the surer sign of the disease is encroaching stiffness and a slower, more rigid, methodical gait. As seen in both Ali and Roach, in its earlier stages the disease leaves the face with an emotionless expression or affect, and the speech becomes labored, soft and sometimes slurred. While the slurring of speech is often associated with Pugilistic-Dementia, Parkinson’s does not necessarily cause dementia. Most who are afflicted retain strong cognitive abilities but find difficulty expressing themselves.
While there is no known cure Parkinson’s patients can find a measure of relief with a range of medications that can help manage symptoms. While the disease is progressive these medications can help patients enjoy a high quality of life. Michael J. Fox, famous actor and noted philanthropist, suffers from Parkinson’s disease himself. He is a good example of one who not only lives well with the disease, but has turned his misfortune into a blessing for others. He represents the Michael J. Fox Foundation whose main goal is to, through the donations of others, eventually eradicate the disease. Information on how to donate to his foundation as well as to Sarcoidosis research is linked below.
For Roach, the twenty-five year ordeal has been a difficult journey. Of late he has admitted that the medications he is taking sometimes cause what are known as suicidal ideations. He recalled that when Robin Williams, the late-great actor/comedian took his life back in August of 2014, and the subsequent news came out that he had been suffering from the early stages of Parkinson’s disease, the thought occurred to him that he was taking the same medication as he and he understood and even empathized with William’s suicide. Though he says he is not brave enough to actually kill himself he recognizes that like Williams, one is not always the free agent one desires to be. He has learned to manage his thoughts and think in positive, less dark terms.
Roach continues to find purpose, meaning and even solace in the gym. As he continues to train the likes of Manny Pacquiao and Miguel Cotto, he looses himself in the day-to-day business of training. He finds life worth living and is most grateful for boxing not only giving him a great living, but giving him a reason to live.
In the upcoming Mayweather-Pacquiao fight, as both lead trainers deal with and suffer from the effects of debilitating disease processes, they have become symbols of the fighters themselves. Both Money May and Pacman have demonstrated that they are world-class fighters, willing to take on world-class opposition. No wonder both fighters are tough beyond measure as they have trainers in Mayweather Sr. and Freddie Roach who model that toughness.
Commentary By Matthew R. Fellows