Local Sports

Home is where the Hammock is

— Highlands Hammock State Park is gearing up for summer.

Upcoming Central Florida Striders races scheduled at Highlands Hammock State Park include a new 7 a.m. Summer Sunrise Series of 5Ks starting on Saturday, with other races being held on June 28, July 12, and August 16. The entire circuit of races costs $40 and awards will be based on the top three cumulative times for all four races. Participants may run races individually at a cost of $10 per race. However, there will be no awards or shirts for individual races.

Entry fees increase after Thursday. Following Saturday’s race, the next race is the 20th annual Firecracker 5K set for July 4 at 7:30 a.m.

For race entry forms or to receive a calendar listing area running events, contact Heartland “running guru, racing ringmaster” Chet Brojek via email at cbrojek@comcast.net or leave him a phone message at 385-4736. Entry forms for the Summer Sunrise Series and the Firecracker 5K will also be available at the park Ranger Station or by contacting Brojek.

Many running events raise money and support local schools, hospitals, non-profit organizations, and medical research as well as the park. Racing promotes fitness, builds character, intensifies competitive spirit, and strengthens the community. Don’t miss the challenge of this exciting inaugural Sunrise Series and the 20th Firecracker!

The weather is sunny and balmy. Cool mornings and early evenings are the perfect time to train for a 5K, a marathon, triathlon or simply get in shape for summer. Park visitors may hike the trails and walk, run, and bicycle the park’s two mile Loop Road beneath the beauty of branching, spreading oaks. Sunlight filters softly through the densely shaded canopy, while cicadas, birds, and the wind quietly blend sounds of nature.

Visitors can extend their training and potentially increase health benefits by incorporating the park’s Healthline Fitness System into their walk, ride, or exercise routine. The system, which standards were set by the American Heart Association, is a series of exercise stations located at strategic points around the Loop.

When done consistently three times a week, this balanced program will strengthen the cardiovascular system and improve muscle tone and flexibility. Instructions for taking the pulse and a list of target heart rates with corresponding ages are posted at the Heart Check Station, so those completing the Loop fitness trail, can verify rates and track progress reaching of their target levels.

When Ranger Andrea Nelson was cleaning the exercise station signs, she noticed they were all deeply faded and adopted replacing the signs as her special project. Consequently, she would like to issue a special invitation to park annual pass holders who run, bike, and train regularly at Highlands Hammock as well as new residents to the greater Heartland area to join her in “bending and stretching” at the ballet bar, leg lift, and Achilles stretch.

Other stations include the knee lift, touch toes, hop kick, leg raise, jumping jacks, body curl, chinning bar, log jump, isometric squat, and step up. Striking nature photos taken by former ranger and Friends of Highlands Hammock board member Darrel Smith, mark these stations. They connect runners to the park’s natural features and greatly enhance this most unique recreational experience.