by Eric Gollannek
If you’ve stopped in to check out the latest boots in the ‘soccer cave’ in Grand Rapids over the last year, it’s likely you’ve met Nick Knowles, perhaps wearing his Chelsea jersey and sharing his deep knowledge of the game with wisecracking style. Nick has a passion for soccer and for staying active as a way of life, running back to his roots in Caledonia. His story embodies the importance of relationships in inspiring us keep moving and the lessons that come from pushing beyond our limits.
Listening to Nick tell his story, it’s clear how the longest journeys often start close to home. Like most who grew up in Michigan, Nick spent lots of time outdoors and near the water as a kid. His grandparents’ cottage on Gun Lake served as the setting for family gatherings nearly every weekend. Asked what makes Michigan distinctive, Nick agreed that it’s definitely the seasons, fall and winter, that bring out his love of the Mitten. “I’m outside more in the winter than the summer with skiing and snowboarding,” he said. Like most of us who enjoy staying active, he gives two thumbs down to the heat and humidity that comes with summer in the Great Lakes state.
Still, Nick says he loves playing soccer regardless of the weather. Nick discovered his passion for soccer early, playing AYSO soccer as a young kid and he eventually joined the high school squad at Caledonia. Surgery and a long recovery left him sidelined for his senior year, but he sees the game as a lifelong pursuit. “I’m better now than in high school,” he explained, revealing the wisdom of perspective and hallmark positivity that carries him forward. Playing rec league soccer now, he enjoys keeping his skills sharp as well as dedicating time and passion to coaching. His childhood friend from Caledonia and fellow Gazelllian, Sam Stearns, describes his passion for nurturing others as a coach and friend: ”Nick is one of those people who has that ability to recognize the potential in others. The best part about him is that he will never hold that potential over your head. Instead, he wants to find a way to help you reach it, even if that means he has to sacrifice something of himself along the way.”
Relationships from close to home in Caledonia run through his story. Sam encouraged Nick to apply for a job at Gazelle and also joined him in his newest personal challenge: running. While Nick had competed in track and field in high school as a thrower, he shared that the soccer field more than satisfied his desire to run. But that was before arriving at Gazelle Sports in the summer of 2015; a little more than a year later he would be well on his way to running the Chicago Marathon! He credits the support of the Gazelle community in getting him ‘up and running’ with the Priority Health Run Camp last summer when he trained for his first 10k. The first time Nick hit five miles was a breakthrough: “I wanted to go home and eat a whole pizza!” Nick built upon that success and set out to conquer the 25K of the River Bank Run running alongside Sam and his fellow Run Campers. Then Paul Hamilton approached him about the next step. (If you know Paul, he is a master of persuasion.) “If you’re going to train for a marathon someday, there’s no better time than now!” A few weeks later they entered the lottery for the Chicago Marathon and through a combination of good fortune and drive, Nick and Paul will run 26.2 miles through the Windy City next month.
Asked about what he’s learned on this journey, Nick shared that “you’re capable of more than you think you are in life.” Sometimes we have to set audacious goals and push on beyond our perceived limits. Relationships nurture us by lifting us up and in turn through our actions we inspire others.