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In the swing

Firefighters go low-tech to stay in shape

Kevin Wilson
Northern News Services

Iqaluit (Oct 22/01) - Racquet sports have taken a quantum leap in the last 15 years.

Steve Main, club pro at the Frobisher Racquet Club in Iqaluit, has seen those changes first-hand.

Fire Chief Neville Wheaton of the Iqaluit fire department says he expects his firefighters to stay in shape. "This is pretty physical work we do here." - Kevin Wilson/NNSL photo

"Especially in the last five years, the changes have gone by in leaps and bounds," says Main.

According to Main, squash racquets have been the biggest beneficiaries of technological advances.

It's a byproduct of a rule change from the World Squash Federation, the sport's international sanctioning body.

"It used to be that the racquet could only be made of wood with a very small percentage of graphite," says Main.

However, the federation changed the size of the stringing area, and didn't define how big it could be, or what materials could be used on the racquets.

"A bunch of companies jumped on the bandwagon and started producing graphite racquets," Main says.

Graphite, the same material used in pencil lead, is much stronger and lighter than wood.

Nowadays, graphite has been overtaken by other materials. Racquets are now made of Kevlar, ceramic, and in the last two years, titanium.

Main says a top-end titanium racquet, like the Apollo Paladin Ti ultralite, will set back a prospective squash player about $150.

The racquet tips the scales at a scrawny 144 grams. A lower-end, slightly heavier Emrik Elite XL racquet, 11 grams heavier, is a good starter, costing about $120.

Firefighters get physical

Away from the racquetball courts, Iqaluit firefighters have their own system to keep in shape.

After all, firefighters have a physically taxing job.

While volunteer firefighters do not have to fulfil minimum fitness requirements when they join, they are expected to get themselves up to snuff by the time their six-month probation ends.

"There's no doubt about it, this is pretty physical work we do here," says fire Chief Wheaton Neville.

Consider that a firefighter carries about 20 kilograms of bunker gear, oxygen tanks, and may have to drag a victim out of an inferno, and the wisdom of staying in shape becomes evident.

Iqaluit firefighters use a small room called the "sweat shop" at the back of the firehall. Its emphasis is decidedly low-tech: barbells, dumbbells, and hundreds of pounds of free weights. The only exceptions are a treadmill, stair climber, and a stationary bike.

Firefighter Travise Dow says there's a reason for the simplicity.

"I prefer free weights and dumbbells because you have to control the movement yourself. With exercise machines, the machine controls the plane of movement," he says.

Dow works out four or five times a week, alternating between weightlifting and cardiovascular training.