Bad knees lead to new route to good health

  • Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Erick Kramer is unable to exercise by running because of bad knees, so he's used a StreetStrider to lose 30 pounds. STAFF PHOTO BY TYLER HEFFERNAN

Depending on who you ask, the aging process can either be a beautiful thing or cruel.

It's a bit of a double-edged sword for Eric Kramer, known throughout most of East Cooper as the crazy Pittsburgh Steelers fan. You know, the guy whose wardrobe variety is similar to Homer Simpson's.

But, instead of a white collared shirt and blue pants, Kramer has a closet full of his favorite NFL team's gear. Big Foot visits Mount Pleasant more times than Kramer is seen in colors other than black and gold.

The Pittsburgh transplant has always been an athlete. Kramer is the type who dives headfirst into a base during a recreational softball game, breaks a finger and keeps playing. This really happened.

Kramer playfully pulled one of his two broken fingers – both softball injuries – from its crooked state to straight. It snapped back to crooked when he let go.

“You didn't want to have surgery to fix that?” I asked.

“Heck no,” he said. “It was the middle of the season.”

When he was a kid, his parents stopped buying him long pants. They'd just deal with his cuts and scrapes when they happened.

“We played softball in Pittsburgh, but we played on a cement field,” Kramer said, reminscing his childhood. “I never thought anything about it (diving and sliding). My parents would always say, 'It's concrete; don't do it.'

“They wouldn't buy me pants, because I'd just rip them up.”

He took his wild-man antics to the softball leagues of Mount Pleasant. “I remember the last couple years I played. I guess my kids were 7 (years old) and 4,” he said. “Carolyn (his wife) brought them out to a softball game. I came around third (base) full speed, and I'm screaming like, 'Aargh!' and I dive headfirst and tumble over...That was the last game she took 'em too.”

“So you took the catcher out?” I asked, secretly relating to his over-competitiveness in sports.

“Oh, yeah, I took him out,” he reassured.

But, all that was before doctors told him he needed significant work done to repair his ailing knees. That was before he started wearing knee braces as a part of his regular attire.

Aging has been cruel in that regard, but his personal evolution has helped him too. “If I dove now, I wouldn't build up enough speed to hurt myself,” he said, laughing.

“Phew,” said his other eight fingers.

Kramer, 60, made a life change a little over a year ago. He was 213 pounds. “When I got on the scale, I knew I had to do something,” he said.

So, like a lot of things in his life, he got inspiration from the Steelers. His knees prohibited him from running, and sometimes even walking, and he wanted a source for a total-body workout that a bicycle can't offer.

Alan Faneca, a retired Steelers lineman who accumulated nine Pro Bowls, a Super Bowl ring and entrance into the program's all-time team, said he exercised with a StreetStrider. In the article that Kramer found, Faneca described the machine as an “outdoor elliptical on three wheels” that helped him drop 80 pounds.

After thorough research, including talking to the inventor, Kramer bought one. In a few months, the number staring up at him on the scale read 183. Since his purchase about 14 months ago and the quick weight loss, he's plateaued because he's gaining muscle mass.

Kramer's latest annual physical revealed he had built up his triceps so much that he now needs an oversized arm band when reading his blood pressure. He rides 10 miles four to six times per week. The biggest perk: there's no pressure inflicted on his knees.

Taking a ride around Kramer's neighborhood in the Longpoint subdivision confirmed a couple of my suspicions. One: it's very much a total body workout. We rode about two miles and for a guy in pretty good shape, I huffed and puffed like the big bad wolf outside of a pig's straw home.

Two: most people have never seen this mobile elliptical or jet skis on wheels, as Kramer described. People pointed and motorists slowed down to do double takes.

“Some guy pulled down his (car) window and yelled, 'Hey, you forgot your bike seat!'” Kramer said of a time he traveled on the Isle of Palms Connector. Other people have yelled less witty remarks such as “That looks like a real work out” or “Is that hard?”

As far as he knows, he's the first person in Mount Pleasant to own a StreetStrider. But, he's not the only one. A curious motorist rode next to Kramer for a short time during one of his 10-mile rides and asked him about the machine. Kramer has two, so he offered to let the man ride with him another day. The gentleman did and later bought his own StreetStrider.

Kramer has a few definitive fitness goals he wants to accomplish with his grown-up toy. On his 60th birthday, he rode 26 miles. On his next birthday in April, he wants to accomplish 50 miles. His projected route would take him from his neighborhood and back, after riding through the Isle of Palms, Sullivan's Island and Old Mount Pleasant.

He also wants to log 2013 miles this year, which would be an average of just over 5.5 miles per day. And, he'd like to get down into the 170s weight range.

Kramer, who said he feels like a 45 year old, has ditched the diving for his StreetStrider and uses the popular book series “Younger Next Year” as inspiration. “I have a 12-year-old son, and I don't want him to do the crazy stuff I did,” he said.

Neither exercise blueprint is crazy, and best of all, aging doesn't have to be cruel.

Read more columns online at www.MoultrieNews.com.

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