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Targeting obesity rate, free outdoor fitness center opens in Lincoln

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LINCOLN — A state-of-the-art outdoor fitness center — the first of its kind in Illinois — opened Thursday in the center of a county with one of Illinois' higher overweight and obesity rates.

But some of the more than 100 supporters of Fitness Court, who attended the launch party, see the role of the outdoor gym as more than a way for Logan County to sweat down its overweight and obesity rate of 66 percent.

"We want to see Lincoln become a healthier town," said Kristen Gurule of Lincoln. Representing Reps Gym in Lincoln and the Abraham Lincoln Memorial Hospital (ALMH) Foundation, she participated in a fitness challenge to demonstrate exercises that can be done on the court, and then assisted launch party attendees in exercising.

"This is offering an outlet for kids," continued the Bloomington-Normal native. "There is a big drug problem in Lincoln, Illinois."

"It's about health and fitness," added her husband, Mario Gurule, who also represented Reps Gym and participated in the challenge. "It's also a way to bring our community together."

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Fitness Court is on the site of the former ALMH building at 255 Eighth St., which was torn down several years ago. The hospital relocated to a new building at 200 Stahlnut Drive, Lincoln.

The outdoor, body-weight circuit training court is free and open to anyone from dawn to dusk, said Angela Stoltzenburg, director of the ALMH Community Health Collaborative.

Fitness Court is a product of a business called the National Fitness Campaign. About 25 Fitness Courts have opened nationwide, with more in development, but the Lincoln Fitness Court is the first in Illinois, Stoltzenburg said.

Fitness Court, erected on shock-resistant sports flooring, includes about 30 pieces of equipment and can accommodate as many as 28 people at once.

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The equipment allows for core, squat, push, lunge, pull, agility and bending exercises that may be adapted for beginner, intermediate and advanced exercisers, said Angie Whiteman, a Community Health Collaborative specialist. The exercises are depicted on a Fitness Court wall, but there also is an app for the exercises. A schedule of free classes will begin on the Fitness Court on Friday.

The National Fitness Campaign contacted the City of Lincoln, which looped in the ALMH collaborative.

"Evidence shows that communities are healthier when they have access to fitness opportunities," Stoltzenburg said. "And this is free, state-of-the-art, well-thought out and accommodates every fitness level."

"We know obesity is the root of a lot of diseases and we (Logan County) also have high rates of diabetes and cardiovascular disease," Stoltzenburg said.

The ALMH Foundation bought the court and contracted to have it installed on what is now city property, Stoltzenburg said. "This is a gift of the ALMH Foundation to the city. It's a $140,000 project."

"Logan County has a high obesity rate and we in this county are embracing a culture of fitness," said Ron Keller, a Lincoln alderman.

"This is state of the art, it's out in the open, you don't need a membership and it's free to anybody to use," Keller said. "Other than the health benefit, this is a quality-of-life issue."

Among families trying Fitness Court following the demonstration were Erin Haynes of Lincoln and her children, Emma, 9 and Wyatt, 8.

"I'm here because I decided to get into fitness and teach my family how to be healthier," Erin Haynes said. "I have fibromyalgia. When I do fitness, I feel better. Since I am working out, they want to work out with me. Fitness Court is something we can do together."

"My mom likes fitness, so we want to learn about it," Emma said. "I think it's awesome that everybody gets to have fun."

"I think it's an excellent thing for our community to become healthier all together in a family atmosphere," Erin Haynes said. "Tomorrow morning, at 5 a.m., I'll be here."

Contact Paul Swiech at (309) 820-3275. Follow him on Twitter: @pg_swiech

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