Local ways to have fun in the sun and get fit
Polk County area residents like to run and bike for exercise, but there are plenty of other opportunities to get fit.“I run, bike or swim depending on life’s circumstances, but ideally all three,” shares Dr. Richard Cardosi, a gynecologic oncologist with Watson Clinic and a Polk County Medical Association member. “I run most consistently, taking routes wherever I’m at and pending available time as there are lots of scenic running routes around town.”
“I would say by far the runners are the largest group of active exercisers in Polk County,” says Al Snow, communications specialist with Polk County Tourism and Sports Marketing. “Cycling is probably the second most popular.” For those who like watersports, some that top the list are skiing, kayaking, and swimming. In the summer heat, people start early, take to the water, or exercise indoors.
On Your Own Two Feet
Those who like encouragement join a runner’s club, hiking club, or team. They take a class or nature walk, run a 5K race, or enter a triathlon. Dr. Cardosi agrees that signing up for a race or some type of special event that has purpose, such as a charity bike ride or fundraising walk, is a great motivator. “I started by training for a half marathon to benefit ovarian cancer and participated in a running event in Washington, DC,” he shares.
The Summer Sunrise Watermelon 5K Series and the triathlon Ironman Florida are popular events, Snow shares. A record 1,039 finishers competed on June 7 in the run around Lake Hollingsworth featuring cold watermelon afterwards, says Bryan Graydon, club president. The rest of the seriesopen to “anyone, anywhere”is scheduled June 28, July 26, and August 23. “The majority of people doing our races are not necessarily members of our club,”Graydon says.“Joining our club actually is financially beneficial to those who do our events.”
The Lakeland Runners Club has grown from 200-plus to 600-plus in the last five years. There are no age limits and walkers are welcome. “We don’t discriminate based on abilities,” says Graydon, age 40.
The triathlon is an event people aspire to “kind of as a way to prove yourself,” says Snow. The event,which includes swimming, biking and running, is held in April by Polk County Sports Marketing in Haines City at Lake Eva and around it.
Of the challenges of fitting an exercise routine into your schedule (running or other recreational sport), Dr. Cardosi speaks from experience. “You have to be committed. It is hard to get going at first, but once a consistent habit is developed over a month or so it becomes much easier,” he explains. “Joining a group or club is beneficial as it allows you to gain from the experience and support of others, but also knowing you are supposed to meet someone for a run or ride serves as further motivation to show up and avoid letting them down. You have to build your routine into your schedule. If you don’t make time, you won’t do it—there is always something else to do!”
On the Bike
Those who like to bike can join Polk Area Bicycling Association (PABA), a group of 85 members ranging in age from the 30s to 94. Co-led by Nellda and Jeff Clark, PABA rides every Saturday morning at 7:30.
“We love to ride out in the country to enjoy the fresh air, Florida sunshine, and scenery. Mileage is generally between 30 and 40 miles, speed runs between 12 and 16 miles per hour,” Nellda explains. “We usually split into two groups, a slower group and a faster group.”
Nellda, age 54, says riding is a great stress buster. “It helps me stay healthy in many ways, including ‘sweating out’ a cold or flu bug, and keeping the joints moving,” she explains.
Some lose weight; others no longer need medication when they ride regularly. “Some people turn to biking when they can’t tolerate running any longer, because it’s easier on the body (knees especially),” she says.
Newcomers don’t need to be concerned about keeping pace.“We have a credo . . . ‘no rider left behind’ . . . We make sure everyone makes it safely back to the ride start,” she adds.
On the Trail
City, county and state parks and trails give joggers, cyclists, skaters and others plenty of choices. Popular multi-use trails include the TECO (Tampa Electric Company)/General James A. Van Fleet State Trail extending from Polk City north to Mabel in Sumpter County, and Fort Fraser Trail from Bartow through Highland City to Lakeland.Otherpopular trails are the Circle B Bar Reserve and Teneroc Fish Management Area, in the Lakeland area; and Lake Wales Ridge State Forest, Arbuckle Tract, in Frostproof.
Hiking, helping to maintain the trail, and geocaching—where participants play a type of hike and seek looking for a logbook and possibly a stash of trinkets—offer more recreational fitness options.
“It’s good exercise. You’ve got a GPS (global positioning system) coordinate,” Snow says of geocaching. “You have to find your way to it. A lot of times you’re hiking. Some people bicycle.”
For 45-year-old David Waldrop,whose job in computer network operations for the Polk County schools keeps him at a desk,hiking and helping to maintain the trails help him stay fit and give back to the community.
Hikers can join the Florida Trail Association, which boasts 4500 members; about 130 arein the Heartland Chapterincluding Polk, Hardee, Highlands, and DeSoto counties. Their hikes usually begin sometime between 7:30 a.m. and 9 a.m. and last three or four hours. Some hikers linger for lunch.
“Our slogan is ‘we are an eating club with a hiking disorder,’” quips Waldrop,who chairs the Heartland chapter. “We’re not going to see a lot of the up close wildlife. We get to talking, laughing, and carrying on as we’re hiking. It just runs anything off.”
There are no local dues and membership is not required to join the hikes. “If they are enjoying themselves, we do like for them to join the [state] organization,” he says.
Nature walks are offered at 8 a.m. on the first Friday of the month (with the exception of the Fourth of July) at Bok Tower Gardens in Lake Wales.The grounds are open to passholders and annual passes are available.The old Cypress Gardens nature area has been preserved and is available to visitors of Legoland in Winter Haven.
The adventurous, or those with physical weakness or disability, can exercise using Nordic poles, which looks like skiing on dry land. “It’s like resistance training for your upper body,” says Lori Clinch Adams, age 50of Winter Haven, a Nordic pole walking coach.“They can be used on any terrain.”
Those who need help with balance have support on both sides.“There’s a technique and a feel for everybody,” says Adams,who likes to walk at Simmer-Young Park near her home. “I also walk my dog while we’re doing it so we both get exercise.”
On the Water
Watersports are also popular. Members of the former Cypress Gardens water skiing team keep the tradition alive by performing regularly at Lake Silver in front of Winter Haven Hospital. “We’re still lifting girls over our hands, jumping off the ramp, flipping and back flipping, says Mark Voisard,60,Cypress Gardens Water Ski Team President. “We’re trying to teach the young people what we know, so the tradition will continue.”
Fitness is important just to do the free shows scheduled the third Saturday of each month. “I go to the gym three times a week,” Voisard says. The team has about 100 members, although not all are performing. “Anybody that wants to join can,” Voisard says. “We take families.”
Kayaking is gaining in popularity, with boaters traveling from lake to lake in Winter Haven or opting for a float on the Peace River. Swimmers usually prefer pools. “There aren’t a lot of people that swim here for exercise in the lakes,” Snow observes.
Audrey Nettlow, who owns Paddleboard Winter Haven, takes out paddleboarders, who stand on top of what looks like a big surfboard. “They’re the shape of a surfboard, but they’re long and they’re wider and they’re a little thicker,” says Nettlow, who opened her business a year ago. “When the sun is out, my phone rings off the hook.”
Paddleboarding offers a “great core workout” while you’re having fun, she says.“If you can kneel and stand up, you can do it on the board,” she explains. “Almost everybody can paddleboard.”
Learn more about area fitness opportunities:
story by CHERYL ROGERS
photo by PEZZIMENTI