Feature Article - November 2010
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Finding Space

Making Room for Fitness Programming

By Wynn St. Clair

Take It Outside

Faced with a lack of indoor space, some fitness managers have turned to the outdoors to help boost their programming menu. Boot camps, kickball leagues, yoga classes and basketball leagues all can be offered al fresco without taking up massive amounts of park space.

But, as with any new recreation class, trailblazing outdoor programs need time to grow and attract participants. In Elmhurst, Ill., for example, parks officials have spent the past year building interest in a girls running club that will teach preteen runners the importance of fitness and self-esteem. The idea came from a local preschool teacher who was inspired by a national program called "Girls on the Run," which has several offshoots in the Chicago area.

"It's a program not only to get girls outside exercising and enjoying some kind of physical activity, but it also helps build self-esteem, self-respect and moral fiber, while promoting strong values and the importance of healthy living," said Matt Poole, a program manager with the Elmhurst Park District.

The 10-week program aims to prepare tween girls to run a 5K race as a team. Once it's established, the club will meet twice a week for an hour. The first half hour is dedicated to talking about self-esteem issues, while the second part will be spent running or engaging in other physical activities. The program will begin with five-minute runs and then slowly build up the distance so the girls will be able to tackle the race. Given most of the running is done outdoors, program managers don't have to worry about finding enough indoor space for the group.

But such innovative programs and spacing solutions, however, don't necessarily become overnight sensations. Elmhurst has not launched the program yet because they weren't able to attract enough girls when they first offered the program in the fall. However, they believe in the running club's mission and intend to make another push in the spring when people's focus is typically on rebirth and starting over. Poole fielded a lot of inquiries about the program after registration closed, so he gathered e-mail addresses for the interested girls and plans to contact them before the next registration period.

"We know the interest is there," Poole said. "We just hope to get it up and running, and when we do, we know that everyone will get really interested through word-of-mouth after we run the class."

When launching a novel program, it's important to give the classes time to grow, Poole said. It's not fair to the community or the program to abandon the idea—especially when there's an interest and a need.

"You just have to keep at it," Poole said. "Know that it's probably not going to go the first couple of times. You must persevere with creative ways to reach your target audience. You have to keep trying to provide opportunities that people might not normally have."