Back on center stage

Knowles rebounds from horrific accident to win bodybuilding title

Posted: Monday, April 16, 2007

Just six years ago, doctors told Juneau bodybuilder Norm Knowles that his crushed leg should be amputated.

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He had broken his back and numerous bones in a terrible climbing accident. But Knowles refused to let the injuries defeat him, and he stormed back into weight-lifting.

Knowles won first place in the men's masters division at the 2007 Last Frontier State Fitness, Figure and Bodybuilding Championships on April 7 in Anchorage. While winning the event was a major achievement, Knowles' path to the competition proves even more commendable to fellow athletes and fans of the sport.

Knowles, 46, moved to Anchorage in 1967 and considers Alaska his home. He moved to Juneau in 2003 and works in computers for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

For decades, Knowles pumped iron. The gym rat competed in his first bodybuilding competition in 1986 at the Palm Springs Open in Palm Springs, Calif.

He's also an avid climber, making numerous ascents on ice and rock.

However, a near-fatal fall on Jan. 16, 2001, changed his life.

Knowles fell 60 feet while leading an ice climb on Panorama Peak, located at the entrance of Denali National Park.

"I bounced off quite a few things on the way down," Knowles said. "Shattered my right leg, broke my back in three places, and also broke my femur and my jaw. ... Everything beneath the knee was pretty much shattered."

Knowles said his most serious injury was "a pile-on fracture, which is where the leg explodes on its strongest axis."

The bodybuilder spent three months in the hospital and a couple more in a wheelchair. Knowles said some of his doctors stated the leg must be amputated and that he'd never be able to climb again.

Knowles battled through the pain, however, and began his slow recovery.

In addition to rehabilitating his body, he improved his mind during his recovery. Knowles attended college in Seattle, earning a degree in Web server administration.

Knowles was between surgeries at this time, but he began visiting a gym at the college. He also rode a bicycle to classes in Seattle.

Slowly but surely, Knowles began to feel like himself again while training in the weight room. He slowly began to train his legs again, but he had to isolate each leg and train them separately.

After moving to Juneau in 2003, Knowles intensified his training. In 2005, he reentered the bodybuilding spotlight and placed second in the Last Frontier State Fitness, Figure and Bodybuilding Championships' men's masters division for competitors 40-and-older.

Just before this year's competition, Knowles said he was absolutely thrilled as his weight climbed to 230 pounds of muscle. He eventually cut his weight down to 208 pounds for the competition he would ultimately win.

With his championship in tow, Knowles is now headed to Pittsburgh for a master's national competition on July 21. The winner will be awarded a pro-card, or entry into the professional bodybuilding circuit, which has always been a dream for Knowles.

While Knowles is rigorously training for the competition, he said it will be his final one. Knowles will retire from competitive bodybuilding after July 21.

In addition to returning to bodybuilding, Knowles went climbing three times since the accident and said he will maintain a healthy lifestyle despite retiring.

It's harder for Knowles not to go to the gym than to go.

"When you're in the weight room," Knowles said, "if you get that last squat, that very last repetition, you can do anything."

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