True athlete: Conway’s Hawk helps others soar through fitness

by Mark Oliver

All his life, Conway native Henry Hawk has experienced success at many different levels. 

From his time as a three-sport all-state athlete at Conway High School and coaching at Ole Main (later North Little Rock) to a high school football state championship and his induction into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame, everything Hawk touches seemingly turns to gold. He also set a world record in running the indoor mile in the 60-64 age division. 

 

Although his home is adorned with medals, trophies and plaques from years past, Hawk’s greatest victories are still being achieved today through his work with others through physical fitness and rehabilitation. 

“I’m a Conway boy who loves teaching and working with individuals,” Hawk said. “I’ve always tried to stay in great shape and take care of my body. For the past 14 years, I’ve taught fitness classes in both Conway and North Little Rock to help others take care of themselves, too.”

Ten years ago, while he was teaching one of his fitness classes, Hawk was introduced to Robert Robinson, a young man facing an immense personal challenge.

“When I was 70, I met a young man who was injured in a four-wheeler accident,” Hawk said. “His head had separated from his spine — he was internally decapitated — and was told by doctors that he’d never move anything but his eyelids again. His mother, who was a student in one of my classes, wouldn’t accept that, so she came to me, asking for my help.”

Challenge accepted. Though he wasn’t certified to work with the disabled, Hawk dove right in to what he called the “Robert Robinson Project.”

“When I met Robert the first time, he couldn’t swallow water,” Hawk said. “He was on a feeding tube and could barely whisper. For a moment, I wondered what I had gotten myself into, but I knew that he and his family were counting on my help. I started working to get his fingers moving and soon we were lifting his arms up and working on controlling them on the way back down.”

Today, after years of work together, Robinson has made significant improvements and continues to rehabilitate daily with Hawk’s help. 

“Robert has made amazing progress,” Hawk said. “Just this morning, we did squats, toe raises, step ups and sit ups. His story has been very inspiring. He recently got married and helps run a car lot in Conway and he’s turned into a fine young man.”

As word of Hawk’s work began to spread, so did the demand for his services. To help fulfill the needs of others, the Henry Hawk Disability Rehabilitation Fund was created.

“Since my work began with Robert, so many others want to work with me,” Hawk said. “At 80 years old, it became too much for me to try to help every individual in person, so I had to think of a new way to help others. I started a website and started creating DVDs to branch out and help a larger number of people. I have two DVDs — one of my exercise class called ‘Flying with the Hawk’ and one I recently released called ‘Exercise for Parkinson’s.’ People are purchasing them from all over the country.” 

Hawk’s recent work with Parkinson’s patients inspired him to focus his work on those with disabilities. 

“Two years ago, I started working with Parkinson’s patients,” Hawk said. “It’s a disease that has really progressed lately. It’s getting so big and there are so many people needing help, that I wanted to create a DVD workout for people with disabilities. Although it’s called ‘Exercise for Parkinson’s,’ it fits any type of disability. I modify the exercises specific to each individual’s needs and abilities and we’ve had great success with the program so far.” 

Hawk hopes his work encourages others to consider physical fitness. 

“When people come to my classes for the first time, I tell them not to compete with other people,” Hawk said. “Everyone wants to come in off the street and jump in and see instant results — like fast food — but you have to realize your level of fitness and stay within your capabilities. Some people have been in my class for 14 years — if you have patience, you’ll see results.” 

In his free time, Hawk enjoys golfing with friends and spending time with his family.

“I recently gave up teaching classes in North Little Rock so that I could spend a little more time with the things that I enjoy,” Hawk said. “Although I still teach classes in Conway, it gives me more time to focus on my work with individuals, too.”

A documentary of Hawk’s work with Robinson, called “True Athlete,” as well as information on obtaining one of his exercise DVDs, can be found at henryhawkdrf.org.

Even at 80, Hawk says retirement is not an option — he will continue to help others if he can.

“Of course, I’m going to keep on [teaching and working with others],” Hawk said. “It helps me just as much as it does them. I get a good workout, too.”

Tags: