Erik Fredrickson, 37, a fitness and wellness business owner, trainer, and consultant who has been East Hampton High School’s part-time strength and conditioning coach since the fall, had to put himself to the test not long ago, after having undergone treatment for a form of leukemia.
“The doctors said we don’t know where it came from, we can’t prevent it, but we can cure it!” the East Hamptoner said during a conversation at The Star Saturday morning.
“I’d like to think I’m cured,” he replied in answer to a question, “but the doctors like to give you five years before they tell you you’re cured.”
The type of leukemia that attacked him, he said, was known as “ ‘hairy cell’ leukemia . . . I wish it sounded better. It showed up after I’d gone in for a blood test after having had a number of minor illnesses I wasn’t accustomed to, the last one being a sore throat that wouldn’t go away. . . . I was hospitalized for over two weeks. I had chemotherapy 24/7 for a week. . . .”
He received his diagnosis “on the same day my wife [Sara] went into labor with our second child [Elle]. I was in Roosevelt Hospital in the city, she was at Peconic Bay Medical Center in Riverhead.”
The couple’s other child, a 4-year-old boy named Field, is a Springs School prekindergartner.
In his business, Fredrickson is always assessing and correcting clients’ muscular imbalances so as to render them as fit and injury-free as they can be.
“If it’s not our genetics that predispose us to injuries,” he said, “it’s our lifestyles or our environment. I identify what those imbalances are and correct them based on the lifestyle or sport one plays.”
“We tend to put ourselves in uneven, unbalanced situations,” he continued. “Quarterbacks throw with one arm, ditto pitchers, tennis players. We train the ‘accelerators,’ not the ‘decelerators’ — the muscles in front of the shoulder, for instance, rather than the muscles behind, the ones that are supposed to stop them. The same in running. We say, ‘Run, run, run!’ But to run fast we need our helper muscles to assist. You don’t want a Porsche engine and a Honda braking system!”
“It’s detective work, really. Some muscles are too strong, some are too weak, some are too long, some are too short. There is a reciprocal relationship in every joint complex in the body. My goal is to bring the body back into alignment to optimize performance.”
Fredrickson has been working with all comers at the high school — “not just the athletes” — two afternoons a week, in the weight room and multipurpose room, “exposing them to a wide array of exercise modalities, including resistance, stabilization, balance, flexibility, and foam-rolling training, modalities designed to increase their muscles’ ability to perform. . . . We do free weight training too, but you want to correct the weak links before you overcondition what’s already strong. Otherwise, you’ll always be playing catch-up.”
His goal at the high school, he said, “is to prepare the body for competition long before the various sports seasons begin, so that when the season begins the body is in a maintenance phase. It’s in the off-season, the preseason, and in the postseason when the preparatory work is done. The first day of the sport shouldn’t be the first day of moving, of conditioning. The conditioning should start long before the sport starts. Ideally, conditioning should become a year-round process.”
Fredrickson came to the East Hampton athletic director Joe Vas’s attention through the family of Johnny and Maggie Pizzo, who are his second cousins. “And Bill McKee too — he helped start this. His son Kyle and Brandon Kennedy-Gay were the first to work with me in my class format.”
As for Maggie Pizzo, a top-notch lacrosse player, musician, and Yale-bound student whom he has trained on weekends for a while now, Fredrickson said, “We do a mix of everything . . . I hook her lacrosse stick up to resistance cables, we train her weak links and then do plyometrics, jumping with resistance, and dynamic stretching. . . . We get very lacrosse-specific in our workouts, while at the same time keeping her fundamental strength balanced. I’ve been having such good results with her. I’m not overconservative — she can go off the hook with her speed and jumping. Her 40-yard dash is in the low 5s.”
These Sunday afternoon workouts now involve “a good portion of the girls lacrosse team. I try to make their practices more challenging than the games. They get to play lacrosse and do the physical workout and see how the workouts apply to lacrosse. . . . These girls could be really good this year.”
Getting back to his own physician-heal-thyself situation, the interviewee said the harsh leukemia treatment left him so weakened — at one point he could barely stand — that “I needed to prove something to myself physically. I needed to put my own training to the test.”
“I’m not a cyclist — my athletic background is in soccer and the martial arts — but I decided on the one-year anniversary of my diagnosis to ride with a group of cyclists from Penn Station to Montauk. A friend had suggested it, and others said they’d do it too, but, when it came down to it,” he said with a laugh, “it was just me. After a softball game in Montauk — I play on the Ravens team, Jason Biondo’s team — I and a bike that Bermuda Bikes was kind enough to lend me took the last train out of Montauk for Penn Station. We got in at 2 a.m., and turned right back around at 5:30.”
“I rode 155 miles in all, mainly along the South Shore, following the train tracks to begin with. I probably made a couple of wrong turns . . . but I made it! I also did the Paddlers 4 Humanity ocean paddle from Montauk to Block Island. I’d only paddled on the bays before. This was a lot different. When I got to the shore with my 10-foot paddleboard, I saw Fred Doss and Lars Svanberg and Scott Bradley and the others with these long, beautiful boards that looked like hulls! I had the shortest board, and the ocean, which they said would get glassy, was the roughest they’d ever seen in all the years they’d been doing this. The current was so rough and strong that we made excellent time — five to five and a half hours. I was told it usually takes more than six.”
So, in the end, he said, he had been able to use the leukemia “as a testament to my own general fitness training, which not only helped me heal, but also prepared me for a wide range of physical challenges that I hadn’t previously trained for.”
“Our daughter’s first birthday marked the anniversary of my recovery. She’s a year and a half now, zipping around the house. I can finally keep up with her!”