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Burr Ridge

Former strongman, Navy rescue swimmer works to get kids healthy

BURR RIDGE – A few years ago, he was pulling a semi-truck while doing a crab crawl in a strongman competition. Years before that, he was rescuing people while a member of the United States Navy.

Now serving as fitness director at the Five Seasons Family Sports Club in Burr Ridge, Erik Knowles may not be flipping a 600-pound tire to get into shape, but fitness is still a big part of his life.

“I’ve been into fitness ever since I played high school football,” said the 39-year-old.

Knowles became director at Five Seasons about a year ago, but 10 years ago he was competing in such events as the hand-over-hand truck pull, keg carries and fireman’s carry events in the strongman competition. Knowles said his workout routine included basic strength training, dead lifts, bench press and typical body builder-type workouts.

“There’s a lot of core that goes into it and a lot of cardiovascular strength,” Knowles said. “It’s not just going in the gym and doing power-lifting moves.”

Knowles said he ended up placing fourth in that competition, which included about 20 competitors.

From 1994 to 1999, Knowles also served in the Navy as a rescue swimmer where he said he did everything from night and day search-and-rescue operations to extractions of special forces. Two memories stood out to Knowles though, one of which was when the helicopter he was in lost an engine, went down in the water and he and other crewmen had to swim a mile at 2 a.m. to a house.

The other came when Knowles was called on to take part in several rescues after Hurricane Floyd pounded the east coast in 1999.

“I remember rescuing an old gentleman,” he said. “I had to swim up to his house because his house was underwater and I rescued him and his dog. The guy was complaining about heart pain so we had to evacuate him straight to the hospital from there for treatment. I was never able to find out what happened to him, but that was one rescue that kind of brings back memories.”

Being fit is important to one’s health, but Knowles said one of the most important factors is health education, especially with young kids. Knowles now oversees the “Fit Kids” program at Five Seasons, a six-week program that meets once a week through Oct. 10 for children 5 to 12 years old.

“It’s more or less designed to get kids acclimated to the importance of a healthy lifestyle,” he said. “It includes basic exercise routines, a lot of body weight-type exercises, understanding what your cardiovascular system is and what your muscular system is, basic nutritional knowledge and how to choose healthy snacks.”

Studies have shown childhood obesity has decreased somewhat, Knowles said, but the number is still nowhere near where it needs to be. Knowles said it’s important for parents to be a driving force in their child’s health.

“We try to educate the children, but in order for us to make a huge impact the parents have to be on board with it,” he said. “Maybe in the future I look to make a parents-and-kids program so we can incorporate that with the family and not just with the kids.”

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