By Dr. Stanley Bippus
(Editor’s note: Dr. Stanley Bippus is the former Dean of Continuing Education and a long-time National Faculty member at the United States Sports Academy in Daphne, Ala. He is also a retired school superintendent. He recently led a group of volunteers who secured private donations and provided the labor to build a fitness park at Lake Clare in Huntington, Indiana, where he resides. The recently completed 21-piece fitness obstacle course was built in three months with no taxpayer funding and is now in service to the people of the area. The following is a first-person account of the project Bippus wrote for the Academy).
A question that everyone working in or concerned with the wellness and fitness of American citizens is, “What can be done to get people to live a more active and healthy lifestyle?” The United States, with all of its many resources available to help individuals get and stay physically fit, is one of the unhealthiest countries in the world.
With that challenge in mind, a plan was developed to construct a public fitness park where people could participate together in a fun, physically challenging and safe setting. To create such a facility, it was decided to build military and ninja warrior type obstacles with different levels of difficulty that people of all ages and levels of fitness could access at any time.
I obtained permission to build the park on Township property and designed the obstacle courses with different levels of difficulty that would challenge the balance, agility, strength, and endurance of people of all ages. The park was designed to keep people moving while developing their fitness level.
After the course was designed, I took the idea of a fitness park to different organizations committed to improving the health and wellness of local citizens in the Huntington, Indiana area. I told organizations that building the course was not the challenge; the challenge was getting people to use the course once it was built. Without their written support of the fitness park, the project would not move forward.
Upon receiving written support from 12 health and fitness community organizations including the school district, the YMCA and the Boys and Girls Club, the project was put into motion. Local businesses and organizations were approached to sponsor individual obstacles with an average cost of $350. The largest money donation amounted to $2,000. After money was raised for the materials to build the obstacles, an excavation company prepared the site. Another company installed drainage. Several companies provided sand and hauled sand and provided other services as needed. All this was accomplished with volunteers.
When the excavation of the topsoil was underway, a four-inch sand base had to be put in at the same time since that was when the equipment was available. That resulted in requiring sand be moved where each hole was dug for a post; the dirt from the post hole had to be removed manually from the obstacle course area. The kids’ fitness park did not require any excavation, so holes could be dug and the dirt from each hole was spread around the area, the weed barrier put down, and the post set in place. This was a much easier and faster process. Some critics felt we should have used that process when setting posts on the main obstacle course. That was not possible because the excavation equipment trucks hauling sand were only available for a short period of time, since everything was being donated and we had to use the equipment when it was available.
The construction of the various obstacles was completed by a crew of five senior citizens with an average age of 72. Four of the five volunteers were veterans. The county jail provided two trustees for about six weeks to assist in the construction process.
The layout of the different obstacles was to alternate strength and balance type obstacles throughout the course. Initially the plan was to ask various sponsors to assist in the construction of “their” obstacle. That did not work out and it was more productive for the “crew” not to use outside help to construct individual obstacles.
The original goal was to build one obstacle every two days. That goal lasted one day. Even though everyone involved had very good intentions and some level of construction skills, things seldom turned out as expected. The first obstacle was the over and under bars which was later referred to as the obstacle from hell. Looking at the first obstacle it is easy to see some measuring mistakes, but to “the crew,” it’s a work of art. It should be noted that every obstacle was built with safety in mind.
The fitness park has 21 different obstacles built with two levels of difficulty in an oval shape that is 314 feet end to end. A fun/fitness park for four- to eight-year-old kids is located inside the primary fitness park. Kids of all ages enjoy attempting all of the “adult” obstacles on the main course. Adult supervision of younger kids on the main course is advised, but cannot be enforced since it is a public park. A common sight at the park is parents holding their child up to attempt some of the ninja warrior type obstacles.
A major problem, which exists today, is the fact that the fitness park is located in a low area with poor drainage. The park has been flooded six times since March which causes work to stop for several days at a time and the flooding caused sand to be washed outside the obstacle course border. The local government agency that will take over responsibility for insurance and maintenance of the park has stated they will fix the drainage problem in the coming weeks.
The park was built entirely with donations from local businesses, organizations and individuals. No tax dollars were used in building the fitness park. The initial response to the park has been extremely rewarding. The fitness park is being used by a large variety of individuals from all ages, especially younger people. Two Army reserve units and the VA hospital 30 miles away have brought wounded veterans over to use the park. It has been interesting to note that most adults prefer to use the park when there are not many others around.
Once school begins in the fall there will be a major push to encourage athletic teams from all levels to supplement their fitness programs by having players attempt to complete the various obstacles.
For more information, contact Bippus by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The United States Sports Academy is an independent, non-profit, accredited, special mission sports university created to serve the nation and world with programs in instruction, research and service. The role of the Academy is to prepare men and women for careers in the profession of sports.
The Academy is based in Daphne, Ala. For more information, call (251) 626-3303 or visit www.ussa.edu.