Updated as of Aug. 31 at 5:16 p.m. to include video.
Correction: In a previous version of this article, Travis Medeiros' name was spelled incorrectly. Elon News Network regrets this error.
With the North Carolina sun beating down on him and sweat pouring off his back and face, Burlington resident Travis Medeiros felt his breath and his pace sync up as he entered Pine Hill Cemetery on his morning run. Running through the graveyard because of its silent and peaceful nature, Medeiros intended on checking out Burlington’s new outdoor fitness gym — located just across the street in City Park.
As soon as he entered the cemetery, Medeiros said he was greeted by some dragonflies. Upon following them with his gaze, Medeiros was pleasantly surprised by the motivation and introspection that he gained by the gravestones his eyes landed on.
“They kind of made me look in the direction of a few specific graves,” Medeiros said. “These graves didn't have dates on them, just the name.”
Freeland. Self. Price. Three seemingly unrelated gravestones turned Medeiros’ run from a morning exercise, into a life experience.
“Freeland, which first reminded me of America … Self, making me think of myself. We should think of ourselves and what we give back to our community and how we live our life every day. You're either living your life, or you're not. You’ve got to give the most you can every day — into your life and the lives of others,” Medeiros said. “The name Price on the grave reminded me of what price we're willing to pay for this life. It’s all about community.”
Over the past year, Medeiros said he would drive by City Park on his way to work and see the outdoor gym being built. Although he said that he is “blessed to work a job where I’m on my feet all day,” Medeiros said he enjoys being outside, getting out of the house and moving — as he suspects a lot of others in the community do as well.
“Honestly, it’s been a busy, crazy year … Not only does it give people a comfortable, safe place to exercise, but I mean, a lot of people just don't go to the gym — don't have time, can't afford it — whatever it might be,” Medeiros said. “This is like a gift for the park community.”
Medeiros decided to run a couple of miles from his home to City Park, check out the new fitness area and run back Aug. 27. Upon arriving at the court, Medeiros was pleasantly surprised by its simplistic, yet effective designs for achieving a good workout.
“Literally a three-year-old could do some of this, a 100-year-old could get out here and do some of this, and it's pretty safe — that's the big part of it,” Medeiros said. “I think they did a lot of thinking and planning on this … This is great. They did a really good job with this.”
The completion of Burlington’s outdoor gym makes it the third one of its kind in the Alamance County area, along with the ones located on Elon University’s campus and in Mebane. Each court is essentially a mirrored version of one another — containing variants in color and visual aesthetic — as they were all designed by the National Fitness Campaign.
According to Sean Echeverria, Supervisor of Special Events & Paramount for the City of Burlington and Parks Department, Burlington’s parks department was familiar with the courts in Mebane and Elon and once some grant opportunities became available, it was a “no brainer” to have one built in City Park.
Out of the three, the one in Mebane is the original, opening up to the public at the end of 2020, while Elon’s was unveiled in September 2021 and Burlington’s at the beginning of August.
Echeverria estimated that the outdoor gym cost the city around $120,000 after a $20,000 grant from the National Fitness Campaign and a $50,000 sponsorship from Impact Alamance.
“Even on the back end of the pandemic, now, everyone seems to have really caught on to the idea of outdoor exercise, and staying active,” Echeverria said. “I think that this is a perfect way for people to come and enjoy a free amenity that's here in the center of Burlington.”
Al Combs, another Burlington resident, also checked out the outdoor fitness court for the first time Saturday morning while his son was at baseball practice not 30 yards away. His son’s baseball team, who usually practices in Fairchild Park, had moved to City Park that day due to an all-day softball tournament at Fairchild.
“I played on this field when I was his age and younger … so this is like home to me,” Combs said. “Seeing what the city has done, putting this here — all the stuff that they do — is good.”
According to Medeiros, part of the appeal of the outdoor fitness court is the ability for anyone to use it during whatever park functions may be occurring, as 200 people could be attending a baseball game right next to the court and one could still utilize it without interfering with the game.
In terms of location, Medeiros also said he likes that the park is across from a cemetery because it gives him a great deal of motivation.
“Obviously the graveyard is a reminder of where we’re headed, and it shouldn't be a negative thing, it's a memorial. But it should be a reminder that we got to live our life every day,” Medeiros said. “Give back to others, give back to the community.”
After completing half of his run, with almost as much sweat on him as sunlight, Medeiros took in and utilized Burlington’s new outdoor fitness court. He said he was grateful that the community put time and resources into constructing it, and even set the goal for himself of being able to run to the park from home, do 15 to 20 pull ups on the fitness court and run the rest of the way back home.
“This is the first time I've run in a while, and of course, I am reminded how much I love to run … Some people may be struggling with their life situation, their job, whatever it might be. I'm no stranger to life,” Medeiros said. “This is a place they can come and do stuff. Get out, get the air, get the exercise, meet people. This is huge. This is something that can just grow and keep getting expanded on, and I'm glad that this community did this. This is what we need more of right now.”
Erin Martin and Max Wallace contributed to the reporting of this story.