COLUMBIA — More than 200 people gathered Thursday morning at the Activity and Recreation Center to jump start their New Year’s resolutions of staying fit and healthy.
The Mayor’s Council on Physical Fitness and Health hosted “Happy New U” to demonstrate the variety of exercise opportunities in Columbia.
Fitness experts from the ARC, Columbia Jazzercise Center, Key Largo Fitness and Tanning, Wilson’s Fitness Centers and others conducted free classes and demonstrations for the community, including tai chi, Pilates, yoga, dodge ball and scooter soccer.
“We are working on programs for everybody,” said Tery Donelson, chairman of the Mayor’s Council on Physical Fitness and Health.
“The Biggest Workout” offered six 10-minute activities. Mayor Darwin Hindman participated in the activity, which included "body combat aerobics."
“There is no question in my mind that it far exceeded expectations,” Hindman said. “There was a huge turnout, and people were enthusiastically participating. It’s a good sign for 2009 that Columbia is a health-conscious city, and I think this helps prove that.”
The event's organizers expected about 75 participants, which Donelson said would have been considered a success.
“We’ve had 185 people, at least, show up, plus 30 to 40 people helping put on the event, so to bring out over 200 people on a holiday is really exciting for a first-time event,” said Dana Hughes, a member of the mayor’s council and chairwoman for the "Happy New U" committee.
Laura Kitzi, the Columbia Jazzercise Center owner and a fitness council member, is credited with coming up with the idea.
“My hope is that we could give people access to a wider array of fitness options,” she said. “It might increase their chances of actually going to that facility and being involved in it and then remaining committed to it longer because they’re making a more informed choice.”
The event drew positive responses from participants and trainers.
“I thought this might get me motivated to exercise for the rest of the year,” said Bonita Baer, 53, of Columbia. “... Like most of us this time of the year, I start thinking about what I need to do differently.”
Cora Mitchell, 7, said she liked the leg exercises: “It makes my bones much more better.”
Larry Libbus, 63, of Columbia said he attended mainly for the tai chi.
“I like the focus on the breathing, relaxation and flexibility,” Libbus said. “As people get older they need to focus on that. Maintaining the flexibility and deep breathing has really good benefits.”
Chris O’Keefe of Columbia Classical Fencing demonstrated his specialty at the event. Two years ago O’Keefe had a stroke and spent a month learning how to walk. He returned to fencing, after 15 years, with a positive attitude.
“It was the most physically demanding and strenuous thing I could think of to do,” O’Keefe said. “After doing it for so long, I know what it feels like when I’m doing it right. This is the reason I can walk today.”
Hindman said the success of the inaugural event should ensure its return.
“The idea of having a wonderful First Night event and then have this the next day is a tremendous way to end the old year and start the new one,” he said.