Hundreds of Howard County residents got out of bed early on Saturday, June 18 to exercise.
The crowd, which gathered in Centennial Park at 8 a.m., had special motivation: They were going for a Guinness World Record for the largest circle training session.
Organized by the county nonprofit We Promote Health, the event was the culmination of Get Active Howard County, a 10-week program offering free workout sessions from late March through early June.
Participants were divided among six stations, each with a professional trainer to lead them in a nine-minute set of exercises. After each nine-minute block, groups had one minute to move to the next station.
Workouts ranged from Zumba dance routines to jogging a miniature track to lunges, pushups and sit-ups. MC Brenda von Rautenkranz, a local fitness guru who hosts her own talk show and training programs, circled the field offering moral support over a background track of upbeat Top 40 hits.
To set the record, 250 people needed to participate. According to organizers, the final tally was 323. Although the record needs to be approved by Guinness World Records before it becomes official, organizers said they were confident it would meet all the standards.
Brian Jolles, founder of We Promote Health, said his initial idea when he contacted Guinness was to break the world record for largest boot camp exercise session. However, Guinness responded with a suggestion that instead of trying to break that record, which stood at 3,000 people and would require a greater level of workout intensity, We Promote Health should set their own first-time record.
But setting the record was not as simple as recruiting 250 people to exercise together. Jolles had to record the event photographically and with video – from multiple angles – as well as create a defined area for the event to take place. Four-foot stakes linked by yellow caution tape surrounded the field on Saturday, and the space was roped off as soon as the record attempt began.
All of the materials and manpower necessary to document the event were donated by members of the community. Scaffolding, professional photography and videography services and a moving truck to transport supplies were all provided at no charge by local businesses. Rotary Club members volunteered to be the official witnesses for the event.
"We've got the easy job," joked David Parris, Rotary Club member and witness. "We're here to observe."
Organizers are sending all of the documentary materials to Guinness' office in London and expect to hear back about whether or not the record has been approved within six weeks.
Jolles said not setting a new record would be disappointing, although his main goal for the event was to let the community know that exercise can be accessible to everyone. "This is about people taking action and taking matters into their own hands," he said.
Participants in the event were a varied group.
Ishmael Delen, 10, was inspired to get active when his teacher, Karen Jablon, offered him a free pass on his weekly reading log if he went to a workout organized by Get Active Howard County. The fourth-grader from Waverly Elementary chose to attend a "Boot Camp Lite" workout in Centennial Park, and had so much fun that he decided to keep coming back.
"It's not only exercising, it's fun, it's encouraging and it's not about the intensity, it's the effort," Ishmael said.
Since he started attending boot camps more than 10 weeks ago, Ishmael has lost 17 pounds. He has also inspired his family to join him in getting fit.
Ishmael's father, Nuri Delen, said working out with a group helped him and his son stay motivated. "If the contract is between you and you, you can easily break it," he said.
Participant John Grab said being able to work out with his family has been his motivating factor. Grab, who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in October 2009, now exercises regularly to minimize the impact of the disease. His wife and daughter joined him in attending weekly sessions.
"For us to be able to work out together is something we've been able to enjoy doing," he said.
The Albertsens, a family of five from Woodstock, joined for the same reason. Randi Albertsen said each family member was able to gear the workouts to his or her ability level. She said her daughter Lily, 9, even brought friends to the Saturday morning boot camp after her birthday sleepover.
"It's exciting," she said. "It's something different."
For more information about We Promote Health's initiatives (including its year-round involvement in Stay Active Howard County program), visit wepromotehealth.org.