maryland journal

Feel the burn, al fresco

New exercise machines winning devotees at Druid Hill Park

September 10, 2007|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,Sun Reporter

Wytashe Miller doesn't know the day. Really, the 45-year-old hospital worker can't even recall the month, but this much he does know: At some point this past spring, fluorescent-colored workout machines materialized along the walking path surrounding the reservoir at Druid Hill Park, and he couldn't be happier about it.

"One night, they just appeared," said Miller, an Edmondson Village resident. "At least, that's what it seemed like anyway."

Others who paused in between exercise sets to talk on a recent midweek's morning about the equipment's arrival shared similar experiences; they had no idea the park would be outfitted with rowing, elliptical, back and leg press machines, but they gladly take advantage of the free workouts.

Officials from the city's Department of Parks and Recreation say they spent about $50,000 on the three workout stations set about a quarter of a mile apart on the pathway.

A mother said she was driving her teenage daughter to the swimming pool on the park's main road earlier this summer when the deep-purple and lime-green apparatus caught her eye. Intrigued, Glynnis Gladden returned shortly thereafter and now has incorporated the leg press into her usual walk around the reservoir.

Gladden, 50, who lives in Pimlico, struggled to remember when she first saw the exercise equipment, but she knew exactly what ran through her mind after she noticed it.

"I said to myself, `Oh, I'll be back.' This has everything I need. Now I bring my barbells, do my walk around the reservoir, and I'm done," Gladden said.

Even officials from Parks and Recreation have trouble pinpointing when the workout equipment was installed and open for use. "I don't have that information on me right now," said Gennady Schwartz, chief of capital development.

Whenever it was, Schwartz said his department has heard nothing but praise from the community for the past few months. Schwartz said this is the first time the city has put outdoor workout equipment of this quality in a park and is using Druid Hill as a test case because of its location and popularity.

"We think about people that live below the poverty level when we design the swimming pools because they're the ones that can't go to Ocean City," Schwartz said. "We tried to create something similar here. Since our park is open to the public for free, it's a great opportunity. We want to be a healthy city."

Gladden has worked out at Druid Hill for years and said she has recently seen more people. On a good day - or bad, depending on your perspective - the line for the rowing and elliptical machines can run three or four deep.

"It has increased the population out here significantly," Gladden said. "I've even seen groups of people working out."

Sitting next to Gladden on the leg press recently was Rodney Waters, a Reservoir Hill resident who speaks of his workouts almost in religious terms.

Waters, 53, said he nearly died two years ago of complications from diabetes and high blood pressure. He says his body had been through the gutter after 30 years of drug use, calling himself a "pharmaceutical trash can."

But he has since found exercise, and specifically, the benefits of using resistance equipment.

"It's a great difference for me," Waters said. "I can't afford to go to a gym. But I come out here and get the air and the atmosphere."

All the machines are manually operated, and weight cannot be added or removed. Hard-core exercise warriors may find a rowing machine fixed at 5 pounds useless, but Taanatta Muhammad, a personal trainer for four years, said she won't think twice about putting her clients on it.

Muhammad heard about the machines a couple of weeks ago from a friend.

"So I came here and did a little briefing by myself. I was like, `It's cool.' These machines are excellent just for toning and strengthening," she said.

On this day, Muhammad was working Antonio Rivers, 17, and Terre Shields, 29, on the elliptical machines, located in the middle station.

With no one waiting, Rivers and Shields took a full 20 minutes.

Shields, sweat dripping from her forehead, said she may never go back to a regular gym membership, because, well, she can have sweat drip from her forehead and not worry about it.

She said once belonged to an athletic club, but she "hated going there.

"I felt like it was a pickup," Shields said. "Men always saying something. You had to wear cute clothes and look a certain way. I come out here and I don't care. I'm into my workout and get more done in an hour."

Miller said he too is done with traditional indoor exercise facilities. Doesn't need them. Jogging the Druid Hill path and using the machines (along with avoiding fatty foods) have cut about 40 pounds from his frame since the beginning of the year, he says.

After doing about 10 minutes of rowing, he stopped to take a sip of water and a deep breath.

"I used to belong to a gym, but I like this a whole lot better. It's outdoors and you got the air that's fresh," Miller said. "Coming out here, it's made a difference in my life."

brent.jones@baltsun.com

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