Sweat, sunshine and the booming voices of members of U.S. military members created a competitive atmosphere at the Kentucky Horse Park on Saturday during the first Great American Fitness Challenge.
It was the first time that humans, rather than horses, ran the obstacle course in and around the Horse Park's High Hope Steeplechase. The area was turned into a military-style obstacle course, which featured two levels: the open "All American" division, and the elite "SEAL Select" division.
Stations at the course, — which took competitors from 30 minutes to more than an hour to complete — featured pushups, situps, pullups, squats, log jumps, burpees, feed-bag carry, ammo carry, combat crawl and tire flips.
There were also 5K and 15K runs, as well as a number of exercise classes by professional fitness experts. These included a Zumba class, a high intensity interval training session and a yoga class dubbed the largest ever in Kentucky.
As competitors ran from station to station on the obstacle course, they were motivated by members of the Marine Corps, the Navy and the Kentucky National Guard. Cries of "ooh-rah," "Let's go," and "Push yourself" rang out as competitors ran, jumped and splashed their way around.
"It was challenging. It was a good all around body workout," said Brian Haggerty, an Uber driver from Frankfort, who noted that the hardest part of the event was how much the obstacle course took out of him.
Eddie Simpson, a major in the Amy National Guard, did the "SEAL Select" challenge and said that the hardest part was the burpees and running between stations.
"I do CrossFit, have been for about six years, and this really is a difficult challenge," Simpson said.
Claire and David Shirkey, a married couple from West Virginia, said that the obstacle course was their first fitness challenge.
"We're pretty active, so we like to think that being active every day isn't in vain — that we can do anything that we want to," Claire Shirkey said.
Cinnamon Larkin, who works at the UK Children's Pharmacy, said that when she began to tire on the course, she thought of where she was just 4½ years ago.
"I knew that I needed to change my lifestyle, and I've lost almost 100 pounds, and that was just my motivation. That I've done this, for that reason," Larkin said.
"I think it's a great thing, because healthy people are the key to everything we want to do," said former Gov. Martha Layne Collins, who helped hand out awards to the top finishers. "I think we've had an excellent turnout for the first year."
The Great American Fitness Challenge has plans to expand to other cities as well as return to Lexington, according to the organization's president, Rick Ford.
The challenge was created by BrainBox Intelligent Marketing in Lexington, and the event is intended to make waves in the fitness community, Ford said.
"We decided that we wanted to build this brand, and we wanted to do it in our own hometown," said Ford, who praised the assistance from the U.S. military, which have been long-time business partners for the marketing company.
"We told them what we were doing and they wanted to come out and help," said Ford, noting that the company is currently working on a fitness program with the Navy SEALS and has worked with the Marines on the Great American Rivalry Series focusing on high school football across the country.