Lawrence's 'World's Largest Community Workout' motivates Topeka health leaders

Topeka health leaders were so inspired last summer by Lawrence’s “World’s Largest Community Workout” that they decided to start their own community workout.

“Lawrence does a great job. It was an easy thing to model off of,” said Alice Weingartner, deputy director for the Shawnee County Health Agency and chair of the workout.

“Shawnee County’s Largest Workout” will be July 15 and similar to Lawrence’s 45-minute workout, which includes stretching, calisthenics, and running or walking.

“We are looking to make Topeka a healthier Capital City,” Weingartner said. “We would love to see several thousand people come out and participate.”

But, she isn’t pitting Topeka (population 125,000) against Lawrence (population 90,000) just yet.

“I don’t have any fighting words for [Lawrence] — not this time around,” she said with a laugh.

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Weingartner said Lawrence is fortunate to have a workout icon like Don “Red Dog” Gardner. Gardner has been leading community workouts in Lawrence since 1984. He will lead Lawrence’s second “World’s Largest Community Workout” on Tuesday.

“That guy is amazing, just amazing,” she said. “I just think having a person like him in the community is a great asset. Someone who is willing to give his time and energy and talents to do that.”

Topeka doesn’t have a Red Dog, so organizers are identifying a team of local fitness instructors to lead the workout, which will be at 6:30 p.m. in Washburn University’s Yager Stadium.

Weingartner said Topeka’s goal is to attract 3,000 people — 300 more people than Lawrence’s first workout.

“Are we going to get that? We don’t know,” Weingartner said. “If we do, great. If we don’t, that’s OK as long we got some people out moving who maybe haven’t done it before and maybe they are just looking for a little extra motivation.”

First, she and other organizers plan to attend Lawrence’s workout on Tuesday to see how the approximately 200 volunteers manage the event.

Marilyn Hull, an organizer for Lawrence’s workout, is hopeful there will be 4,000 participants. It’s part of the LiveWell Lawrence initiative — a network of organizations, businesses, schools and residents working to integrate healthy eating and physical activity into every aspect of community life.

She thinks it’s fantastic that Lawrence inspired the Shawnee County workout.

“The whole idea is to have a healthier state,” Hull said. “There are many people working hard in their own communities to do things and we all beg, borrow and steal from each other. So, if they’ve been inspired by something we’ve done great. The next time around it could be the other way around.

“I totally credit Dog Days because it’s a unique program in Lawrence and it was the inspiration for the ‘World’s Largest Community Workout.’ We were lucky that we started with an existing program that already has a huge and loyal following.”

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