Warren inventor aims to shoot exercise harness into space

Tribune Chronicle / Burton Cole Frank Calvin, 75, demonstrates his patented rubber band exercise harness, designed to help with physical fitness and injury rehabilitation, at Warren G. Harding High School.

WARREN — Inventor and fitness proponent Frank Calvin sees athletes-in-training differently than most people.

“I look at a kid, and I wonder how can I hook a rubber band to them,” Calvin, 75, of Warren, said.

He’s been trying to figure out how to get his patented exercise bands harness system to catch on at schools, rehabilitation hospitals and training centers. Oh, and at NASA. He said astronauts would benefit from his resistance training harness in microgravity.

“If I didn’t sell another harness, I’d be thrilled to death — if I got one to go into space,” Calvin said.

Large, thick latex exercise bands that fit around a body add resistance to stretching workouts, and are more effective, safer and more portable than traditional weight sets and exercise equipment, Calvin said. He expanded the idea into a harness system that provides compression and mimics just about any exercise normally done with free weights or heavy equipment.

Convincing people it’s as wonderful as he knows in his heart it is has been a long, frustrating marathon, with more rejections than victories over the past four years.

“I thought these things would sell real quick,” he said. “People don’t understand.”

He’s had swimmers wear the harness in the water to increase resistance with their strokes. Runners have used rubber-band stretching to enhance their power blasting out of the starting blocks. A golfer used it to improve his swing. Calvin gladly hooks anyone who is willing to the rubber bands.

He said he hopes as more athletes break personal records after using the harness and more rehab patients recover stronger and more quickly with it, the word will spread. In the meantime, he relentlessly posts videos and testimonials on his Frank Calvin YouTube channel, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and any platform that will allow him. He’s also stopped random people as he wore the harness around Warren.

“I’m walking around town and people think I’m nuts,” he said. “I can’t talk enough about it. Ask my wife. She’s tired of hearing about it.”

There are the occasional boosts. This week, a retired Navy corpsman who is a physical therapist at a veterans rehab facility in Virginia Beach, Va., emailed: “That harness is perfect! Been rehabbing an old Marine with it, he loves it and loved it even more when I told him it was made by a Marine.”

The Warren native graduated from Warren G. Harding High School in 1962. He enlisted in the Marine Corps and was discharged four years later as a sergeant. He worked at American Welding for two years, as a deputy sheriff for two more years and then signed on at the General Motors Corp. fabricating plant in Lordstown, where he worked in plant security before becoming a production supervisor in 1994. He retired in 1999.

Calvin created the Distinguished Alumni Hall of Fame for Warren City Schools. The first induction banquet was held in 1993 at the Park Hotel.

A sports and conditioning fan, he started the Rubberband Gym on Elm Road in 2004 as Stretch to Fitness. After moving to the YMCA in 2013, he moved it to his garage. Now he has set-ups in a few local schools, including at Harding, where he also installed a series of configurations of plastic pipes to the walls and floor that allows just about every type of exercise possible, including squats that will make tough guys cry, he said. He patented the pipes and harness four years ago.

The harness slips on like a backpack. Rubber bands cross in the back. Several bands that look something like bungee cords dangle from the harness and hook to straps that go around the wearer’s feet like saddle stirrups.

The effect is as if wearing a compression jacket that stretches — literally — from the balls of the feet to the shoulders. The rubber bands provide varying degrees of resistance.

Calvin said if an athlete describes a problem, he tries to imagine a way to work the appropriate muscles to improve performance. “My mind’s always going. I don’t sleep.”

His NASA dream began about four years ago when he saw a program with Dr. Joan Vernikos, former director of NASA’s life sciences division, talking about her book “Sitting Kills, Moving Heals: How Everyday Movement Will Prevent Pain, Illness, and Early Death — and Exercise Alone Won’t.”

“She’s talking about my harness, and she doesn’t even know it,” Calvin said. He emailed her.

She answered. He sent her a harness. She wrote back, “I love it.” But she’s no longer part of the agency.

“I’ve been going back and forth with NASA for three years,” Calvin said. “They could have them for 50 bucks. I don’t think it’s complicated enough. If I made them gold-plated and sold them for a million dollars, they’d take them.”

In the meantime, Calvin will continue trying to hook anyone he can to a rubber band harness — until he gets the call to send them into outer space.